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Review: Paradise Fears at Vienna’s Jammin’ Java

Written By | Oct 28, 2014

WASHINGTON, October 28, 2014 – Paradise Fears, a band that performed recently at Vienna, Virginia’s Jammin’ Java, hails from the small town of Vermillion, South Dakota, which, according to the last census has slightly fewer than 11,000 people living in it.

Bands have a tendency to associate themselves with larger entities when describing where they’re from, not unlike the general populace. But a big city association is a difficult proposition for a band like Paradise Fears. There’s no recognizably large population center they could reasonably adopt. So logically, they’ve chosen to be proud representatives of their actual small town home town.

But what does this give them?

Citing a prominent hometown can often give the audience a hit of kind of sound the band is going to put out. It’s something that generally holds true when any pop/rock band comes from DC, New York, LA or Austin.

But a place name is less suggestive the more obscure a place of origin is. This has a pretty dramatic effect not only on Paradise Fears’ sound, which was also true during their show at Jammin’ Java.

Their name, in fact, is actually a blank slate. The lack of a major, readily identifiable point of origin allows this band’s members to identify themselves in terms of their musical ideals and influences.

Paradise Fears isn’t just a pop band but a populous band. They sound like the direct product of a group whose members ingested as much pop music during their formative years as possible, likely from recordings or even the Internet. That left them open to a wide variety of genres.

But at the same time they were isolated to some extent from widespread scenes and the changes that took place during their formative years. During their set here, they sounded like a band in a bubble that experienced a wide spectrum of musical ideas, but were never informed that many of those ideas became outdated at some point.

Fortunately, since pop music is oddly cyclical, none of that really ended up mattering. Paradise Fears performance at Jammin’ Java threw countless pop/rock ideas at the audience, not so much to see just what would stick. It was actually more elemental than that. Since so many of these musical influences arrived in this band’s collective head without a wider context, it’s actually fair game for them to appropriate what moves them into their own package.

This approach became almost immediately apparent when they opened their set. It was the same way they chose to open the first tract of their last album, Battle Scars. Both on that album and during their live set here, lead singer Sam Miller recited a verse monologue whose essence came straight out of the glory days of slam poetry. It sounded about a decade out of place. It might also have been more than a bit cringe-worthy.

But that didn’t happen. Miller was fully invested in it, just the way he and the band were on the material they presented during the rest of their set. And it’s that kind of enthusiasm that drives their entire set.

Paradise Fears mixes acoustic pop/rock effortlessly with piano rock while throwing in odd mixes of electro pop along the way. They even toss in some awkward hip-hop for good measure. If it weren’t for their insistent dedication up on stage, their entire set could easily have fallen apart, leaving the audience rolling their eyes while impatiently waiting for them to play something more obviously on target in 2014.

But Paradise Fears’ set didn’t fall apart. It accomplished something different and a bit unexpected. By combining everything they’d latched on to and liked over the years and choosing not to be overly concerned with trying to focus their energy on what’s currently fashionable among “those who know,” their kitchen-sink full of ideas coalesces into an eclectic sound that makes them a band for all people and for all situations.

Despite Paradise Fears’ connection with some larger mainstream acts via various tours— all of which have appeared quite successful, BTW—the band is still growing. True, they’re likely to continue being malleable band in terms of sound. But where they eventually go with this open-minded approach will ultimately depend on what they feel can be successfully used and accepted by their fans.

Meanwhile, they will continue to grow as individuals and musicians as audiences are attracted to their sound and sensibilities. In the end, there’s nothing not to like about a fresh and open-minded band like Paradise Fears.


Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer. He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years. Currently he lives in Vienna, VA. He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.