The Upshot: Ornate baroque pop one moment and huge anthemic soundscapes the next from a remarkably gifted and promising young NC band. Read our interview HERE.
BY FRED MILLS
In their short-but-fruitful existence to date, Chapel Hill’s Happy Abandon have garnered a reputation as a forceful act that weds dramatic performance to a nakedly emotional aesthetic. So much so, that the owner of the Schoolkids Records label – formerly Second Motion; home to Tommy Keene, The Veldt, and Bettie Serveert; and, full disclosure, sister business to BLURT – was soon convinced that the young trio would be the perfect flagship artist for the newly-christened label. It wasn’t a frivolous move, either, and if you caught their single “If I Stare” last year, you already have a sense of the group’s ornate, cinematic pop mastery (listen to it HERE at their Soundcloud page). By way of additional full disclosure, I fuckin’ loved ‘em the moment I heard ‘em, and this was well before Schoolkids’ Stephen Judge had signed them to the label.
On the resulting debut, lyrical introspection and high-energy extroversion (read: loud) get woven tightly together, with catharsis the objective. This is not to lump Happy Abandon among traditionally theatrical bands, many of whom confuse billboard-sized pronouncements with profundity, an aesthetic misstep that many prog, metal, and even emo groups also make. On the 10 songs that populate Facepaint, the group offers up grand, sweeping melodies, soaring/anthemic vocals, and manic explosions of energy offset by solitude-conjuring denouements, and the overall effect is utterly exhilarating. Opening track “Ivory Bound” unfurls via pirouetting acoustic guitar and piano, just a hint of percussion—then comes the swell of a string section, which crescendos lustily then swoops directly into “Beneath Our Feet,” a hectic rush of searing guitars, convulsive drums, and pounding ivories as vocalist Peter Vance—in a deliciously androgynous voice—croons, then sneers, then snarls, then pleads. On “Take Me,” this light/heavy strategy further showcases the players’ strengths as the song gradually rises in volume and tempo until, about four minutes in, the listener finds him- or herself cocooned in a glorious wash of sound, guitars, percussion, and keys, as the massed vocals strive for, and attain, full-choir status. (This band does love its vocal arrangements.)
Elsewhere, Happy Abandon demonstrate their versatility at ballads (the ornate baroque pop of “Choice”), showtunes (“Stop Taking Care of Me,” a dark-but-dramatic narrative chronicling a lover’s steadily-rising addiction: “I’ve watched you becoming the monster inside of you/ It has the same eyes as you/ But it can’t love the way that you do… You can’t kill what’s killing you/ If you’re feeding it too”), even orchestrally-inclined art pop (the aforementioned “If I Stare,” an extravagant waltz which boasts violins, cello, flute, and even Peter Bjorn and John-styled whistling).
To their credit, these three men (singer/guitarist Vance, drummer Jake Waits, bassist Justin Ellis; on most tracks they are joined by keyboardist Alex Thompson, who also conducts the strings) don’t deploy their dynamics in rote or template fashion. These are fully-formed rock songs with emotional interior lives that would also work stripped-down or with a full orchestra. Ultimately, Facepaint is a remarkable debut from an uncommonly gifted and promising young band.
Consumer note: The vinyl for Facepaint comes in either standard black or eye-popping multicolor splatter vinyl. And for colored wax, it’s a solid pressing; collectors frequently find themselves complaining about the audio quality of color vinyl, but they won’t have to this time out.
DOWNLOAD: “If I Stare,” “Beneath Our Feet”