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PAWS bring Youth Culture Forever stateside

Buzzy Scottish trio expands on love and loss with second album

On PAWS latest album, Youth Culture Forever (FatCat Records), the Glasgow, Scotland, trio excels at setting heartbroken, angst-ridden tales against toe-tapping pop-punk — a juxtaposition of moods that has long been a staple of rock 'n' roll. Talking about the formula takes PAWS singer and guitarist Phillip Taylor to a specific tune from the British canon: "Ever Fallen in Love" by the Buzzcocks. "That's the most horrible song lyrically. It's so sad. It's basically the worst heartbreak, but it's done in such a jovial, 'fuck it' manner," Taylor says. "That kind of thing appeals to me a lot; the idea of taking the awful and turning it into something a bit more positive."

That's a solid summary of Youth Culture Forever, the second full-length from this fast-rising trio rounded out by drummer Josh Swinney and bassist Ryan Drever. Like PAWS' 2012 debut, Cokefloat!, the new album is a landscape of buzzy, mid-fi guitars and Taylor's irresistible melodies delivered in brief, bracing blasts.

Unlike Cokefloat!, however, Youth Culture Forever showcases PAWS' dynamic range providing respite from the noise-pop blitz. That was the idea when the band entered the upstate New York studio of Adam Pierce (Mice Parade percussionist and head of FatCat's U.S. operations) with more than twice as much time to record as the hurried session for the debut. "We all said initially that we wanted to ... make it slower and faster than the first one and louder and quieter all at the same time," Taylor says. "There are moments of loud and quiet and fast and slow on the first one, but we didn't feel like there was enough contrast between those moments."

PAWS' efforts pay off in songs such as "Erreur Humaine," which shifts from a walking-paced waltz to the caustic roar of an electric guitar. "Owl's Talons Clenching My Heart" chimes and charms its way through a more reserved groove. There's also "Alone," an aching ballad that blooms into an orchestral coda, and the rambling 12-minute closer, "War Cry," which ascends into Pavement's jammiest territory before collapsing in a heap of feedback.

Other songs such as "Tongues," "Someone New," "Give Up," and "Narcissist" are perfect nuggets of punky indie-pop that show why Taylor is one of the genre's most promising and restless minds. "My worst fear is doing the same thing twice," he says. "I would hate to have come out with an album that sounds like the same formula as the first one."

Don't expect PAWS to turn out a concept record or a collection of story songs anytime soon, though. Taylor has tried "many times" to write a song that's "just about nothing," but he can't do it. At this point, his source material is day-to-day life, love and loss, and the people around him. "I'm drawn to amazing music about falling in love and being happy and stuff like that, but at the same time maybe I just haven't really experienced that side of it all that much to know how to write about it coherently and confidently," he says. "These songs have all just kind of stumbled out of a strange place."