(Mountain Fish Records, CD)
Kids these days. Composed of five high school juniors from Williston, the Haps recently unveiled their debut EP, Hanon Drive Heroes. A mishmash of rock, funk and reggae, the jam band ably mimics a cavalcade of predictable influences — Phish, the Dead, etc. But they also showcase enough charm and ingenuity to suggest that, with a little more seasoning, they might one day offer a fresh take on the waning jam idiom.
The album gets off to a suspicious start with “Kings.” Bassist Braden “Gunthro” Lalancette lays down a solid groove, but his bandmates initially struggle to lock in. Nick “Red Beard” Ledak’s rhythm guitar is never quite in sync as he manically strums a jaunty, jam-pop progression. Making matters worse, drummer Griffin “Otis-Lance” Brady’s youthful exuberance appears to get the better of him. His fluttering intro is noticeably rushed, and it takes him a few measures to lay back and find his footing.
Eventually the guys do settle in. And when they do, the results are usually impressive, especially given their tender years. The Haps most often come together behind multi-instrumentalist Wil Yandell — the only member, apparently, without a nickname. Given how they finally rally around his pleasing sax melody on “Kings,” I might suggest “the Glue.”
Keyboardist Greg “Donald” Meyer handles the bulk of front-man duties and proves a capable vocalist. He’s never flashy, and his delivery suits the band’s pop-informed material nicely. He holds court over the eight-and-a-half-minute epic “Merlin’s Beard” with cool confidence, providing welcome relief between the song’s extended jam breaks.
“Good Sir Porcupine” takes heavy cues from local jam gods Phish. Irreverent and fun, the song recalls the leaner moments on the Phab Four’s A Picture of Nectar.
“Lemonade” is a nifty little three-minute jam-pop charmer. The band likely won’t blow anyone away with lyrical profundities — at least not yet. But the Haps can find their way around a pop song as well as most of their older jam contemporaries.
Hanon Drive Heroes closes on a high note with the reggae-tinged “2 of 2.” It’s the record’s strongest cut because the band largely lays back and avoids the temptation to overplay, allowing the song room to breathe. It’s a lesson many far more established jam bands have never learned, but one the Haps appear to be on their way to mastering. Be sure to call us when school’s out, boys.