WXTJ Writes! By Whitney Edgerly: The Understated Impact of the Paper Kites’ On the Corner Where You Live

Many will potentially recognize the name of Australian quintet the Paper Kites for their smash song “Bloom” off their debut EP Woodland, released in 2013 to critical acclaim. The heavily folk-influenced EP helped launch the band to new heights and pushed them into the mainstream beyond the limits of Melbourne, Australia where they first started performing in the local music scene. “Bloom” remains one of the band’s most emblematic singles, having raked up over 500 million streams on Spotify alone and was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America in 2021. While Woodland is an incredible piece of work in its own right, as evidenced by its continued success and relevancy worldwide, one album by the Paper Kites that in my opinion is their masterwork remains tragically undervalued and underrepresented by those interested in independent music. On the Corner Where You Live was released by the Paper Kites in September 2018 as the second full-length work of a double concept album, following the band’s April release of On the Train Ride Home just a few months prior.

For those who love the Woodland EP, On the Corner Where You Live at first feels like an entirely different band at work; for this record, the band decided to largely abandon the acoustic, folky nature of their past work in exchange for electric guitars, chorus, reverb, and a sultry, longing atmosphere. One of the major strengths of this album is how cohesive it is on both a sonic and lyrical level, with the thematic concept of both On the Corner and its predecessor On the Train Ride Home being city life with all its romantic angst, struggle for survival and retaining of personal identity in a fast-paced environment. This is well-illustrated by the cover art created by American noir artist Gina Higgins, which depicts a young woman looking out onto the city streets while others go about their lives beneath her.

The album starts by putting the listener immediately into the setting of a bustling city at nighttime with the opening instrumental track “A Gathering on 57th.” The song begins with the sound of a train rolling on train tracks and crisp, jazzy piano chords take hold. A saxophone joins in the mix, creating the atmosphere of a night club where some city dwellers may go for entertainment after hours, complete with the noises of streetcars and ambulance sirens in the background to create the urban ambiance found on the rest of the record.

The album flows straight into the 80s dream pop sound that informs the record with “Give Me Your Fire, Give Me Your Rain.” Vocalist and principal songwriter Sam Bentley shows off his crooning vocals and lyrical sensibility in this single, using emotionally and visually evocative lyrics like “I could live as a liar / Say that I’m turning away / But giving up won’t give up desire” and the titular lyrics “Give me your fire, give me your rain / Give me a little love from you” to represent his burning desire for someone out in the night. The song reaches a fever pitch at the bridge, when Bentley belts “Watching windows, watching stars / Colored lights and empty bars / All the houses in the yard / All the streets and passing cars / What’s the distance where you are? / Can I make it back to your heart?”, effectively staying true to the theme of passionate love found in the city. This theme is continued in the following single “Deep Burn Blue,” when Bentley sings over mid-tempo guitar riffing and a driving bass line, “You like the glow of the downtown lights / The colors on the street when it rains all night / But I can’t give you what you want / If you don’t want it from me baby,” resulting in the visceral conclusion of the chorus that their love is “a deep blue burning right through you.”

The next track “Mess We Made” greets the listener with a catchy staccato guitar riff playing over an ambient synthesizer and complete with a syncopated drum machine, fully leaning into the 80s pop influence. Keyboardist and secondary vocalist Christina Lacy takes the reigns on vocals with this song, deftly pairing tightly-packaged harmonies reminiscent of HAIM with her smooth, airy voice to tell the story of a relationship on the rocks. She assures her lover, “All you’ve touched and felt of me was real / And we can only speak our minds / All the days in all of this / And still it’s nothing now if we don’t try,” but even amidst her longing she equally remains aware of the pain that continuing in the relationship could bring (“What about the mess we made? / What about the things we gave away?”)

“Flashes,” the fifth track on the album, is a rare moment where an acoustic guitar takes center stage, harkening back to the band’s acoustic roots as found on Woodland. In the song, Bentley plays with familiar themes of fire, light, and yearning for love that appear throughout the album. He almost pleads with his love interest when he softly sings, “Wait, you’re gonna feel something / You’re gonna feel something, one day,” and finally concedes by the end of the song that they need “more light” to understand what is truly going on in their relationship.

The following song, “Red Light,” is truly a stand-out moment on the album. The track begins with a simple yet powerful guitar riff drowned in reverb that propels the action of the song, a slow-burn much like the budding relationship between the two main characters. Bentley shows off his striking voice and sentimentality when he sets the scene with “Hard rain and a red light / Is keeping it all at bay / And I watch you going wrong /And I watch it all over again.” The song remains uncharacteristically soothing and emotional while ostensibly being about a woman from a red-light district. The song hits an emotional peak when Bentley croons one of the most beautiful and evocative lyrics from the record, “And I watched you under the spotlight / Swaying like a moving tide / I don’t know any more than this / Till the stars burn out and collide,” professing his undying love for a lady of the night.

“On the Corner Where You Live,” the namesake of the album, starts with a bang as fast-paced drums open the song and a catchy, overdriven guitar riff is quick to enter the mix. It is fitting as one of the most upbeat songs featured on the LP since Bentley promises his lover, “Nothing’s gonna take you baby / Nothing’s gonna take you now” in the chorus, showcasing an optimism about love and life in the city and the ways he can show up as a partner. Romantic optimism also appears in the next track, “Midtown Waitress,” in which Bentley sings from the perspective of a young woman who moves to the big city and takes a job as a waitress to be with her man. In the more mellow tune, Bentley as the female character tells her mom on the phone, “We don’t need a lecture about things that could go wrong / I’m not a child no more / So let me be my own,” expressing her desire to be her own person and find a new identity in the big city, not unlike The Paper Kites themselves. Over the course of the song, the woman’s enthusiasm for city life dwindles as she encounters hardships, and eventually calls her mom to say, “Lost my job and Joey found religion / And he also found another girl / That’s not how it’s supposed to go / And I’m missing home / I’m trying to be my own but I / Guess I just feel a little alone,” conveying the hard truth that love and city life are not always what they are made out to be in the movies.

Another highlight of the album is the effervescent “When It Hurts You,” a song that thrums with energy from the atmospheric opening guitar riff to the powerful bass line. Bentley’s vocals are raw and supple as he details the split-screen emotions of a couple on the brink of a breakup, detailing intimate images like “I know where you are / Dog-eared books in the corner / Listening to songs / But can’t you see I’m trying?” to the final heartfelt plea of the entrancing chorus, “Let’s believe / It might be okay / Tomorrow morning,” persisting in the belief that their relationship will survive even as they are doomed to fall apart.

The second-to-last track, “Does It Ever Cross Your Mind?”, is possibly the most heartbreaking song on the album. While it’s a simple piano ballad, the lyrics pack an emotional punch as Bentley sings about a long-lost love and ponders what could have been. He asks his old flame, “Does it ever cross your mind? / When it’s summer in July / When it’s quiet / And you find a little time / Does it ever cross your mind?,” even though they are both older now and she now has children who are playing in the same town they fell in love in. A synth periodically drones behind the piano keys, adding to the emotional intensity of the song in a beautiful way.

“Don’t Keep Driving,” the closer of the album, is the crown jewel that the last 10 tracks have been building up to. A striking electric guitar playing resonant chord voicings not unlike Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” takes a hold as an airy drum machine and ambient synths play in the background. The song builds slowly over the first 3 minutes, with a lovesick Bentley begging his lover, “Cars slowly passing right down on main street / Don’t keep on driving, let me say something.” The song culminates with Bentley pleading, “For the memories, for the good things / Turn around now, turn around” and the final powerful belt of “Don’t leave me now” as the production builds and a mesmerizing guitar solo by guitarist David Powys takes over, a haunting and gorgeous conclusion to an unforgettable album.

All in all, On the Corner Where You Live is a truly spectacular album that remains true to its concept, putting the listener right in the midst of a bustling city at nighttime when your most innermost thoughts are finally able to run free along the city streets. The production and instrumentation by the members of The Paper Kites and principal producer Pater Katis is out-of-this-world, and this album easily deserves a place among the Woodland EP and other high-visibility albums for its sheer quality and artistry. Sam Bentley, credited as a songwriter for all songs on the record, the sole writer for 10 of which, also deserves recognition for being one of the most formidable songwriters of our time.


https://www.allmusic.com/album/on-the-corner-where-you-live-mw0003188589#trackListing https://www.riaa.com/gold-platinum/?tab_active=default-award&ar=The+Paper+Kites&ti=Bloom&format=Single&type=#search_section

By Whitney Edgerly. When not reading, writing, or doing community service, you can find her playing electric guitar and occasionally singing in bands and listening to the same 5 songs on repeat on Spotify.

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