Can anyone giftwrap emotional turmoil with more kaleidoscopic flair than Papercuts' Jason Quever? "Still Knocking at the Door," the first single off his forthcoming fifth album, "Life Among the Savages," is in many ways a return to form: It was recorded, like the first three Papercuts albums, in his home studio in San Francisco. It's at once wide-eyed and somnambulant, swaying between piano rock and dream pop. It even has a twinge or two of the sardonic humor that characterized his 2007 debut, "Can't Go Back."
What's different here, though, is the fact that Quever seems to have eschewed some of his previous work's minimalism. Where his earliest efforts saw him making a lot out of very little (see: the bone-dry simplicity of "Unavailable," from "Can't Go Back"), he now seems intent on teasing something modest out of a deceptively dense arrangement. Such an approach rewards the careful listener with a slew of unexpected perks -- an impeccable melodic turn here, an ever-so-subtle piece of string orchestration there -- that land and evaporate like raindrops on hot pavement.
"Not scared of the girls with dreams to sell/Seen them smile and wish you well," Quever sings near the song's outset. The line may sound gut-wrenchingly earnest, but there's something in his intonation -- his words are groaned, like he's answering a mother's annoyed plea for him to get out of bed -- that carries just a tiny, exciting whiff of malice. "Still knocking at the door in vain," he continues, amid a scrumptious wash of pop textures.
You can hear his frustration sting for a moment, then recede. Just like a papercut.