New Audio: Paper Pools’ Ethereal and Mesmerizing “Portraits”

Allen Orr is a Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and creative mastermind behind the psych pop/synth pop project Paper Pools, which he started back in 2019. Orr’s Paper Pools debut EP It’s in Our Mind is slated for a Friday release, and the EP thematically is a visionary travelogue charting Orr’s life.

Born and raised in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, music provided refuge from the constant uprootedness he felt growing up: he moved around the globe a lot with stops in Atlanta, Ireland and Prague before returning back to Atlanta. As a young man, Orr landed in New York, where he broke free of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and fully dove into his two main loves — music and visual art. Visual art took precedent for several years, helping him land a job in design in Los Angeles, where he has resided since 2013.

Music lured him back. And Orr’s music project derives its name as an allusion to artist David Hockney, best known for his shimmering paintings of Los Angeles area pools. Unsurprisingly, Orr considers Los Angeles a muse. “I’m lucky to live on a hill overlooking the city,” he says. “I wrote the music while staring across the skyline, which felt psychedelic.”

For Orr, it’s been a long, strange trip — but it’s all right there in the music: the peaks, the valleys and the years of soulful longing. Orr knew It’s in Our Mind needed to express — and convey — the highs and lows of his journey. “A key theme is the contrast between light and dark,” he says. “From a spiritual standpoint, the first half of my life thus far was completely opposite from the second half. There were many struggles to get to a more positive place.”

Setting up shop at Los Angeles-based 64 Sound with a cache of vintage gear, Orr wove the theme of contrast into the EP’s six songs while sonically the EP meshes elements of dance floor friendly indie pop, singer/songwriter introspection, contemporary psych pop like Tame Impala and Jim James, as well as Peter Gabriel, Fleetwood Mac, and Pink Floyd. “Music from the 70s and 80s has so much sonic depth,” he explains. “I used that same kind of depth to draw listeners into my life and all the things I’ve gone through.”

Orr handled nearly everything himself: Doubling as producer, he sang and played almost every note, riff and synth part with the exception of some occasional backing vocals from The Amazombies‘ and Mal de Mer’s Kim Kelly and the material’s mesmerizing grooves, which were performed by Adam Christgau, who has worked with Troye Sivan, Sia, and Miley Cyrus.

It’s in Our Minds‘ latest single “Portraits” is a hypnotic bop centered around glistening synth arpeggios, skittering boom bap-driven groove paired with Orr’s plaintive falsetto and a well-placed, infectious hook. Sonically, the song evokes the sensation of tripping on hallucinogens — and the intense observations and feelings inspired by them.

“This song was inspired by a psychedelic experience I had during the COVID lockdown,” Orr explains. “The title ‘Portraits,’ alludes to a friend of mine. She’s a wonderful painter, and we did mushrooms together. It was one of the more visionary experiences I’ve had. It wasn’t like anything I encountered during my childhood. So much organized religion, and especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, is formal and structured. What my friend and I experienced was more like a journey. There was a moment when I thought the two of us were twins in a womb. It felt like we had traveled from birth to death. Then there were other times when I was basically looking down upon myself. It was intense. I know I didn’t actually experience these things, yet they felt very real and turned out to be deeply meaningful.”

It’s in Our Minds EP is slated for a Friday release. Be on the lookout for it.