Both the 2006 debut and a full-length score released last year by Raleigh's The Proclivities hinged on indecision and redirection. Frontman Matt Douglas is a classical composer turned pop-rock singer-songwriter, and, as his résumé suggests, he seems perpetually in search of some unidentified equilibrium. Whether falling out of love or into infatuation, Douglas is a playfully serious seeker, the sort who pontificates out loud in sinuous verses and charming choruses. His backing band—local jazz and cross-over gems Matt McCaughan, Chris Boerner, Nic Slaton—underpins the flux: They're as capable of backing Douglas' sweet acoustic reflections as they are muscling his more angular electric verdicts.
Through a series of loving-or-leaving pronouncements, The Proclivities' second proper full-length, Handguns and Dancing Shoes, documents Douglas' duals better than ever before. Together, these 10 tracks work as a dynamic musical and lyrical portrait of Douglas as he deals with a lover and with himself: He refers to himself as a charlatan during a splendid duet, as honest-to-a-fault during a breakup scene, and as a fool during the closer. On "Luckiest Man," he wishes for "the blackest heart," so hurting her wouldn't hurt him, though he later tells her to find somebody who cares more than he does. But by record's end, he wants her back, even if it means he's crazy. The band mostly paints these predicaments with seamless, brisk bounce.
The Proclivities' only missteps come at the heavier end of its sound: "Last Companion" opens through a spree of guitar noise before locking its rhythms in a sort of thin, dance-punk understatement. Manipulated and bedraggled by effects, Douglas' voice sounds like a perfectly good square disguising itself as a circle. At least on "Elephant," he sounds like himself, though the band's half-reggae, half-cabaret jerk feels stiff and clumsy.
But what an unintentional, perfect metaphor: Two of the album's best moments land back to back after "Elephant" to close the record. Slaton's perfectly intonated upright bass, Ryan Cavanaugh's spare banjo and a harmonizing pair of flutes offer Douglas a graceful bed on "The Devil's Best." On the jangly "Trickle Down," he wants back in: "Baby, you're so cool/ and I'm making my way to your heart/ like a fool," he sings, barely twinkling into a naïve falsetto. He'd probably change his mind by the eleventh track if Handguns and Dancing Shoes had one. It's good to know Douglas still lets that conflict fuel one of the state's best bits of pop ambition.
The Proclivities releases Handguns and Dancing Shoes Thursday, June 12, at Tir Na Nog in Raleigh. The Young Sons opens the free 10 p.m. show. The band also plays Saturday, June 14, at Southern Rail in Carrboro.