Every now and then, music journalists are invited to supply a list of their favourite albums, the intention being to compile a definitive collection of must-haves. It is likely that Little Letters, released by Paper Aeroplanes last week will appear on future compilations.
Paper Aeroplanes is a duo from Wales comprising Sarah Howells and Richard Llewellyn who inhabit the more commercial end of the folk spectrum, citing Bjork, Jeff Buckley and Gillian Welch amongst their influences. Little Letters is their third release, and it marks a departure, having more of a 'full-band' feel, with John Parker on double bass and percussionist Martin Ditcham providing the rhythmic backdrop . Nevertheless the instrumentation is still sparse and there's a restraint that adds to the allure.
As the band's vocalist, much attention will fall upon Howells. Idiosyncratic phrasing and the ease with which she slides into the higher registers mark her output as that bit different. Think of Beverley Craven meets Enya if you need a point of reference. The backing vocals are reminiscent of the latter artist too at times.
However what makes this album special is the strength of writing. Little Letters is stuffed to the gills with memorable songs, great hooks and lyrics that explore the emotive without going anywhere near sentimentality.
Lack of variation is the bane of the music reviewer, but that accusation can't be made here. When the Windows Shook, describes the tragedies that have befallen Howells's home town, and gets things off to a stirring start, before giving way to the mystery of Red Rover.
Fable is a morose little waltz and there's a feeling of sadness to Multiple Love, until you realise it's a long overdue anthem for single people and a caution to wait for someone special instead of indulging in do for nows. Palm of the Hand returns to the faster tempo with defiance and a ferocious rhythm as Ditcham gives his drum kit serious pain.
But detailing individual tracks is close to redundant. As soon as you've identified one highlight, another comes along. There are no duds here, and the album as a whole has a beautifully judged balance.
Little Letters is a very fine record. It may come to be regarded as a classic.