Reminiscent of both the fussy prog of early King Crimson and the celestial, chorus-driven heights of So-era Peter Gabriel, the talented Chapel Hill three-piece Happy Abandon boasts a full tool kit of influences ranging from folk-rock, psych-pop, electronica, and avant jazz. The fun of experiencing the band's fine full-length debut, Facepaint, is in hearing the group gamely attempt to wrestle its broad swath of influences into a coherent sound. While the results aren't completely successful, Facepaint's higher points indicate a promising young outfit.
With its quiet intro and slow-burning melody, the meditative opener, "Ivory Bound," is half early Bright Eyes and half Vintage Violence-era John Cale, as swelling synths and strings bring the song to a sudden, discordant climax. The lilting "Love Like Language" reads like blue-eyed soul by way of the Warped Tour, a slow- moving lovers lament that builds palpable tension that threatens to metastasize into full-blown rage at any moment.
Elsewhere, the forceful closing track, "Cursed or Worse," is a witty, self-lacerating confessional, with Pete Vance's soaring vocals bringing to mind everything from Belle and Sebastian's "Stars of Track and Field" to Rufus Wainwright's classic "Foolish Love."
But not everything works so well. The hectoring "If I Stare," with its contrived half-whispered, half-caterwauled vocals, takes a stab at melodrama, but lands closer to the repugnant pseudo-populist preciousness of bands like The Lumineers.
All of which makes the future fate of Happy Abandon so fascinating. It's easy to hear Facepaint as the imperfect echoes of U2's October and Radiohead's Pablo Honey—an ambitious but flawed forerunner to what could be a sturdy, innovative career. At other junctures, though, Happy Abandon might seem to be just another trio with their heads turned to the latest trends. Who's to say? The future remains unwritten. —Timothy Bracy