Postyr’s Paper Tiger

Postyr began as a project. Literally. The group initially called itself “Postyr Project,” and it sought to explore the human voice in new and exciting ways. The group’s efforts to put together new album “Paper Tiger” (currently available only in Denmark, with worldwide distribution coming soon) over the past two years has tested its resolve, but also made it stronger. So much stronger, in fact, that it has rediscovered its identity and dropped the “Project” moniker altogether.

I recently spoke with Postyr’s Tine Fris, who is as patient, gracious, and kind a person as I have had the pleasure of meeting in the a cappella community. She described the process from conception to release of Paper Tiger as a “bumpy ride,” beginning the day before a scheduled rehearsal week in August, 2014. At that point, tenor Andreas Bech told Postyr he was leaving the group.  One of the things which makes Postyr special is the members’ shared roots in the Danish a cappella choir Vocal Line and shared interests in musical experimentation and music education. The group has been singing together for years, and losing Andreas more than just a monumental shift in the group’s foundation, it was also in some ways the loss of a friend. As Fris pointed out, the group members are extremely dependent upon one another, professionally, financially, and personally.  Unsurprisingly, this development has brought remaining members Fris, Line Groh, Kristoffer Thorning, and Anders Hornshoj closer together. Perhaps more importantly, it has forced the group to confront challenges and explore its collective purpose and identity. The result is “Paper Tiger,” an album which is more intricate, personal, and emotional than its predecessor, “My Future Self.”  

While “Self” was recorded by group members Thorning and Bech in less formal environments (closet, sauna, etc.), Postyr is now on the Iceberg Records label and decided to invest a little more and head into a real recording studio, where they continued their prior work with Jacob Brondlund.  Where Thorning and Bech’s production on “Self” was often more raw aurally, here Brondlund chooses to lay the group’s more naked, exposed lyrics over a fuller, glossier bed of pads and drums. While I choose not to review albums here in deference to my work over at RARB, I will note that “Paper Tiger” sounds terrific, with sonic soundscapes that continue to highlight the group’s exploration of the human voice but with a warmer, more lush foundation. In fact, the production really helps to emphasize and highlight so many of the conflicts, discoveries, and emotions which arose during the songwriting process.

As Fris pointed out, the group’s direction and focus derive from its interest in the human voice. As a result, her songwriting tends to focus on lyrics and storytelling, and on finding ways to connect with the listener through these original songs.  Interestingly, Fris talked about how Postyr was looking to continue the group’s exploration of the interplay between the human voice and the computer and the resulting question: does that interaction reduce the intimacy of the voice in music? After listening to Paper Tiger quite a few times, I feel very comfortable answering that question in the negative. If anything, the intimacy on this album is staggeringly effective and creates some of the group’s best recorded music to date.

Luckily, I don’t think this answer will satisfy Postyr, who has built its foundation on exploration.  Nearly four years ago, the group offered one of the first (to my knowledge) streaming performances in the a cappella community. I wrote about it here. Just a few months ago, the group streamed a few live shows on Meerkat.  As Fris told me, they want to know if it is possible to use music to really connect through a computer (or cell phone) screen.  This is an extension of the group’s exploration of the interplay between technology and music, and quite a few attendees at the BOSS festival back in 2013 were blown away by the group’s investigatory process.  

What makes Postyr even more fascinating is that the group does not suffer from tunnel vision. The group’s curiosity is not limited to this specific interplay, as the members have also published a book called “Icebreakers” designed to help a cappella singers “engage, interact, and [to] enhance” group chemistry.  The book was actually published before Andreas left, and I am sure they have employed some of their own techniques as they consider adding a permanent replacement to the group. For now, though, the four original members are content to rely on temporary talents like Morten Bytofte, Lukas King, and even Blech himself on occasion.
“Paper Tiger” is a rough translation of a Chinese phrase which involves facing something that looks dangerously scary but turns out to be harmless or unimposing.  Postyr viewed the creation of this album as its paper tiger.  Luckily for the music community at large, the group navigated those challenges and has crafted what is a lasting, meaningful and engaging piece of art and science, one which explores emotions just as it explores the power of the human voice to connect across technology.  I, for one, am looking forward to see where the exploration takes Postyr next, but I will gladly hit repeat on Paper Tiger until that next journey begins.

2 Comments

  1. Aaron from Acaville   •  

    Great piece, Dave. Postyr has always been a fascinating group to watch, since their project-based early days. Part of that to me comes from their organic growth and development, but another aspect is their embrace of technology. Along with a few other groups, I think Postyr presents an intriguing model of how to marry the tech with the voice and leverage the best of each.

    Perhaps it’s a distorted perspective from being a continent away, but I think there’s something in the European music (and specifically a cappella) culture that encourages groups like Postyr, doing experimental work, to thrive. I’m not sure what it is about that environmental crucible that pushes groups in that way, but I feel it viscerally. (Again, to the extent one can, being thousands of miles away…:-) )

    I hope you’ll do more of these backstory-of-the-group’s-work pieces. I don’t think they impinge on the RARB work, and I really appreciate them.

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