Oh, this is dangerous territory: that nervous voice, that slightly-off kilter, highly emotive, frazzled-and-showing tone that creeps into the fronting vocals of rock bands, particularly those of indie ilk. It can make the best songs unlistenable and the best bands doomed for anonymity or infamy.
But not Pleasant. To the credit of all four pieces in this Chapel Hill band, frontman Sean Parker sports one of those love-or-hate voices, and he works it. Clap your hands. Say yes!
His unique aire--nasal, convoluted--is the band's biggest asset that, for many, can be its foible, too. But Parker rides it perfectly on Pleasant's excellent sophomore album, Awkward as a Beehive. In fact, he even seems to comment on it himself during "Everything Here's Gold," singing "Awkwardness will set you free ... I'm as awkward as a beehive." Parker contorts and twists his voice the most here, hitting falsettos and bending melodies with every chance.
The band handles it, laying away from big solos in favor of Parker's vocal bandleading and melody-making, certainly for the better. His vocals are expertly tracked by Jeff Byrd (Spoon, John Vanderslice) and Zeno Gill against those of bassist Maria Albani, whose supple, sunny, sometimes sullen harmonies are more about tone and effect than content. A reggae pulse and snare snap run alongside a prototypical indie guitar line and Parker's Eric Bachmann-in-a-vacuum singing during "The Embellishment," as Albani chants "Hello, hello, hello" like a pop princess. Three elements become seamless, demonstrating that pulling in different directions while traveling down the same road can work.
As such, things come together on this Pleasant record: Good songs meet shifting aims and confident arrangements, supported by strong production. Better yet, these are 11 patient tracks, none pushing their weight or melodies too fast: Extra bars are added for thoughtful time signature shifts, as on "Longtime," which pauses before allowing for a burst of feedback guitar, á la Yo La Tengo, pushing the song into another chorus and driving home the point of it all: "Maybe ideas will take you there."
Ideas, indeed: They may think it's awkward, but being Pleasant has never been this eloquent.
Pleasant's CD release party happens at Local 506 on Saturday, Sept. 16 with North Elementary and The Sames. $6 gets you an album and admission.