|Happy Abandon — Facepaint (Aug. 25, 2017)|
Happy Abandon — Facepaint (August 25, 2017)♣••♣ The Upshot: Ornate baroque pop one moment and huge anthemic soundscapes the next from a remarkably gifted and promising young NC band.
Location: Carrboro, NC
Album release: August 25, 2017
Record Label: Schoolkids Records
01. Ivory Bound
02. Beneath Our Feet
03. Love Like Language
04. Take Me
05. Severed Seams
07. If I Stare
08. Stop Taking Care Of Me
09. Heavy Lines
10. Cursed Or Worse
•• Peter Vance — Vocals, Guitar
•• Jake Waits — Drums, Percussion
•• Alex Thompson — Keys, Synth
•• Justin Ellis — Bass
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.
♣••♣ Read our interview HERE.
Best: “If I Stare,” “Beneath Our Feet” ♣••♣ http://blurtonline.com/
♣••♣ Forming in early 2015, the members of Happy Abandon were hardly strangers. Operating in the same circles that are the cogs of any small, tightly knit scene, Vance, Ellis, and Waits had known each other for years before as students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Within a few weeks of first playing together, they worked their way onto bills at local shows and by years end Happy Abandon was hitting the road, touring through nearly every state east of Texas and Canada. It was at SXSW that the band initially hooked up with North Carolina music denizen and future label head Stephen Judge, playing multiple slots at his annual SXSW party. From there a relationship was born that would eventually lead to Judges offering Happy Abandon a recording contract via his freshly re~branded label Schoolkids Records. The band continued to write, to tour, and to fine~tune their performances when, in late 2016, they suffered the unexpected loss of three dear friends in three separate incidences. In dealing with these heartbreaking premature deaths, in concert with the trials and travails of everyday life, the songs began to pour out en masse, with subjects ranging from personal loss to abandonment to homelessness — which singer Peter Vance suffered for a stint — to heartbreak to the indomitable power of will. It was through this lens that the band began to see this new set of songs on a grander perspective and began to realize that the wider concept behind their music was the idea that a person needs to feel life, to experience it in every facet, to feel as many emotions as possible, to completely immerse themselves in whatever emotion they may be experiencing, and how, in an effort to protect ourselves, we all tend to hide behind masks, or more appropriately, some kind of facepaint. Vance, who readily admits that he slips behind his own masks on a regular basis, began to see these songs as a vehicle by which to reveal what's behind his facepaint. Writing furiously, Happy Abandon soon found themselves with a batch of the best songs they’d yet written and soon decamped to the tiny hamlet Macon, North Carolina (population 116), where Jason Merritt’s lake house studio sits on the shores of Lake Gaston, to create their album. Within a week they emerged with the ten songs that would become Facepaint, their debut long player, and found their brand of genre bending art music with deep~rooted pop sensibilities more finely honed than ever before. Working with Merritt acting as co~producer, Jamie Candiloro working as mixing engineer, and frequent collaborator Alex Thompson handling keyboards and string arrangements, Happy Abandon captured at once their high flair, their foreboding sensibility and their warmth in a record that is at~once propulsive yet patient, dark, and distant while warm and engaging. Vance’s voice, a tinny yet warm throat~yell which bears an eerie resemblance to Jeff Buckley, sits astride Happy Abandon’s intensely emotional music, which owes as much to the members’ experience in theater, marching bands, and orchestras as it does to their myriad musical influences such as Sufjan Stevens, Andrew Bird, and The National. While full of songs about loss, Vance is quick to point out that Facepaint is not a breakup album. Rather, if the album were to have a subject, it would be the relationship a person has to loss and loneliness, which can manifest itself through breakups, homelessness, familial abandonment, and death. These relationships provide the outline for Facepaint, from the emotions they conjure to the settings in which they exist and the facepaint we all hide behind to make those heartbreaks a little more palatable.
|Happy Abandon — Facepaint (Aug. 25, 2017)|