Some songs are almost illegible, but nonetheless striking. In "With Out This Ring..." a few words emerge from the drone of a slow beat driven by funereal piano line: "Tell me why we're 16 and broken up? Complicated high school drama." Other bits are easily misheard: "It's a green finger—count me out!" Wait, what? But like many songs here it blindsides with one wonderful line: "I don't wanna make mistakes. I still need to make more mistakes."
In "After Prom," a warped voice chatters over a minimal house beat punctuated with stock camera flash sound effects: "Life, life, the best party you live! Laugh, don't think about the choices you choose! One o'clock and all that comes with it! So happy, ready for it!" And then comes a chorus of sorts, Abraham's hushed voice, now clear, urges, "Shh! Don't tell! Don't let it get out!" The track alternates between eerie calm and clatter, the anticipation of something big and probably bad on the way. It's a pretty good approximation of what "after prom" feels like.
There are recurring motifs and themes—games of plucking flowers ("he loves me, he loves me not"; "we're fighting, we're fighting not"), relationships that are never really "on" or "off," parents meddling at the periphery. There are lots of asides that might be absurd or profound, depending on whether or not you heard them correctly: "our bodies will hold us together." The production is passable, exactly as competent as needed to scan as music so that Abraham can try things out in the foreground.
Eventually all of the bits and pieces, the noises and melodies, the snatches of poetry and word salad, start to harden into a story. Girl loves boy she doesn't really like. Girl gets pregnant. Boy dies. Is she distraught or relieved? From "Searching for Closure": "I love you. We're finally at peace. No one will get between us any more." (Maybe he was the one getting between them.) Girl gets angry. Girl moves on, maybe (to California?), maybe not. "I can only put so much in a song," she admits from the start.
The broad strokes don't seem that far removed from Abraham's autobiography, but as usual, limiting the impact of music to the autobiographical details of its maker deadens it. It's art, after all, and it belongs to the world now, for better or worse. But why does it seem inconceivable that a former reality show star might also be a young artist following inchoate creative inspiration to strange places? Not being successful at something it isn't trying to do shouldn't damn any work. It only damns those who refuse to believe good art can come from anywhere and for any reason.
You can't really blame a critic for forcing the link to mainstream pop music, which is usually a safer place for people to ostracize rather than own up to things they simply don't know what to do with. Rather than accepting ambiguity and confusion, listeners short-circuit an important part of analysis, where along with figuring out whether something is good or bad, you also try to make sense of what it actually is. It seems obvious that Abraham's music is operating outside of lots of pop conventions, but very little reception of the music so far has grappled with what's really there, the lovely, maddening mess of it all. What is it?