ALBUM REVIEW: Happyness “Write In”

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

photo by Emilla Orving

They’ve done it again. My favorite (contemporary) British trio is back with a follow up to their 2015 debut Weird Little Birthday. If Happyness have given me anything aside from ace interview material and two years of fabulous music, they have laid the groundwork for something very dear to me as a music journalist: the ability to follow a band’s career indefinitely.

Though I hope I’m not jinxing their livelihood, Happyness seem to possess a great potential for longevity. In this high turnover industry, sometimes all one can ask for is a band you can grow with.

The group’s sophomore LP Write In tells me these three Londoners won’t be disappearing any time soon. While this record certainly bears the Happyness stamp, it also conveys a breadth of growth and maturity when stacked up against their previous recordings. That maturity exists in song structure, yes, but also in lyrical content, which has become, to use bassist Jon EE Allan’s word of choice from a press release, more “earnest.”

If on Weird Little Birthday Happyness charmed us with their searing wit and irreverence, on Write In they move us with their sincerity and vulnerability. It seems that Allan, guitarist Benji Compston, and drummer Ash Cooper have become more whole as songwriters, and as people. It’s almost as if they’re, dare I say, growing up – and I’m fond of how gracefully they are doing so.

Write In’s opening number, “Falling Down” is immediate evidence of such grace. Its somber, slow build expands with layers of lush sound, culminating in shrieking synths. Somehow austere and glittering, morose and hopeful, it is the perfect song for a bedridden, rainy day…and that’s just the kind of day I’m having.

Highlights of the record are almost too numerous to mention, but I am going to do so regardless. “Anytime” is a downright masterful pop song, with its My Bloody Valentine-esque sludge and contrasting bright riffs (that keyboard! Those “oohs”!) That a gorgeous melody could peek its head through so much distortion and fog is a lovely thing.

“Through Windows” speaks to Happyness’ self-proclaimed love of Burt Bacharach, but also brings to mind the brilliance of Harry Nilsson and Blur at their finest. It is songs like this that establish these gents as stellar songwriters; their attention to detail defying their inattention to what t-shirts they happen to be wearing at any given moment.

“Bigger Glass Less Full” is Write In’s more aggressive outlier, much like “Refrigerate Her” on Weird Little Birthday. It doesn’t completely match, but it’s a welcome pop of color amidst the murky warmth of the surrounding tracks. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “This C Is A B A G” is particularly open and intimate, allowing you to really step into their cozy recording studio. The track concludes with tiny cries that register almost like sonar dolphin songs – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: these guys know how to write keyboard hooks that skewer you.

Toward the LP’s end, “Anna, Lisa Calls” stands out as a quintessential Happyness track…a poppy and thoughtful slice of indie rock. Just when you think they’ve outdone themselves, the album closes with “Tunnel Vision On Your Part” – the title track of Happyness’ 2016 EP. The sweeping, melancholy ballad bookends the record perfectly, evoking a similar sadness to “Falling Down.”

Despite their newly stoic approach, the band members haven’t snipped away their senses of humor. With song titles like “The Reel Start Again (Man As Ostrich)” and an endearingly funny music video for “Through Windows” featuring a clever microwave scene, Happyness aren’t taking themselves too seriously…but I hope they don’t mind if I do.

Write In is out now on Bar/None Records.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

EP REVIEW: Happyness “Tunnel Vision On Your Part”


When you were a kid, did you ever play with cornstarch and water? Some of you will think that is the most backwoods bumfuck thing you’ve ever heard, and others will know what the hell I am talking about. The thing about cornstarch and water is, it denies an absolute form. When you grasp it between your hands in a bowl it is chalky and solid, but when you lift it up, rivers of viscous white fluid run between your fingers.

It is this very conundrum of physics that comes to mind when I listen to Happyness, the London trio who recently released five-song EP Tunnel Vision On Your Part via Moshi Moshi Records. This record, much like their debut LP Weird Little Birthday bludgeons me with immediate satisfaction. I can say instantaneously, without a scrap of doubt: “I like this. This is good. This is different.” It is solid opinion, fully formed between my hands and in the bowl. And yet the moment I pick it up for closer examination, everything dissolves in my palms. Why is it good?

A sound you can’t quite put your finger on is the best and the worst thing that can happen to a music journalist. Though Happyness have been basted with descriptions like “laid back,” “slacker,” and most abhorrently, “chill,” I really can’t agree. There is more complexity at work here…more thought. When I listen to Tunnel Vision I don’t hear three happy slackers, but rather a team of gifted songwriters who know their way around hooks, texture, and a killer synth line. I doubt that they cut their teeth by slacking off and copying Pavement.

There are a few lovely things I can point to on this record, one being its steady warmth. There is a consistent shade of rose tinting these tracks, and a fuzz quality that’s equally cozy – as if the boys wrapped their amps in angora sweaters. The opener, “Anna, Lisa Calls” is a melancholy pop cut that has me wondering if the Beach Boys, Blonde On Blonde, or Elvis Costello were on rotation while recording, especially with those swerving, heartsick synths that remind me of Steve Nieve or Al Kooper organ parts.

The record seems to hang its head lower than Weird Little Birthday, its tone far more heartbroken than the snotty and wry debut. “Surfer Girl,” is a sleepy-eyed sad song that turns my Beach Boys suspicion into a theory. It is a washed-out, doo-wop waltz, complete with shore-encroaching waves and forlorn vocals.

At Tunnel Vision’s center is the infectious “SB’s Truck” which was the EP’s leading single. It is a lush ear-worm, spinning out a continual closing phrase that is bound to remain lodged in your head: “I come ‘round here/no real damage/movin’ in around my home.” Or at least, that’s what they seem to be saying in their trademark mumble.

Signing off is the title track: a straightforward dazzler that gets me hung up on the keys again. Whoever is writing these keyboard lines should probably keep their distance from me, as they seem to understand the fine wiring of my heart and could potentially cause an electrical fire.

I don’t feel any closer to coming up with a bar graph of reasons why I dig this band. But maybe digging something and not knowing why is the ultimate kind of adoration. Blind faith so to speak. After all, art isn’t about logic – it’s about instinct.


Parlour Tricks photo

Missing a music festival due to travel delays caused by a snow storm is worse than the brown frozen crunchy puddles that fill Brooklyn. Rather than escape the cold concrete jungle for warm Savannah, where New York City-based “pretty/gritty” pop rockers Parlour Tricks were performing, I had to settle for an interview, which was a chance for a lovely conversation of intelligence and insight. Although, I continue to look forward to the day I can see Parlour Tricks, an AudioFemme favorite, live. Before they head out for this year’s SXSW,I chatted with band member Lily Cato about life on the road, their upcoming debut full-length album, and how cool it would be to perform with Chance the Rapper. .

Audiofemme: Your hometown is New York – how did you all end up in the city?
Lily Cato: I grew up in the city. Everyone else moved for college. I’m lucky they did.

AF: What is your favorite New York City venue?
LC: Mercury Lounge
AF: Best neighborhood?
LC: I love the East Village and Chinatown in Manhattan and Park Slope in Brooklyn. But then all the museums are uptown…
AF: How did you meet and form Parlour Tricks?
LC: We met in college. I started writing music in my third or fourth year, and asked these cool kids to play with me to see if the songs were any good. It was a crapshoot. 
AF: How do you enjoy life on the road?
LC: Genuinely love it.  
AF: Your set up of three vocalists is rather talked about, how did the band formation come about?
LC: First it was just me, Brian, Terry and Angelo, no other women. But I’d hear these thick three-part harmonies in my head in every song I wrote, and finally realized we needed to expand the family. Deedee and Morgane gave me everything I was looking for
AF: What do you miss most from home while traveling?
LC: Not having to load and unload gear every day is a simple pleasure. 

AF: Who were your musical icons?
LC: Elvis Presley and Tom Waits. Still are.

AF: If you could have anyone join you on stage – who would it be?
LC: Chance the Rapper.

AF: Could you tell me a little bit about the band’s visual style, and fashion sense as noted on stage?
LC: We put a lot of work and care into how we sound. How we look is just an extension of that. We’re putting on a show, you know?

AF: Where did your band name come from?
LC: I always loved the idea of “parlour tricks.” People used to get together in someone’s living room and entertain each other. The intimacy of it. Make your own fun.
AF: Your music has been described as much retro and built for the future, if you could see yourself thriving in any time but the present what would it be?
LC: Any time that will have us, I guess. I think we’d do OK amongst the dinosaurs. Really get back to basics.
AF: What’s next for Parlour Tricks?
LC: We are so, so psyched to be releasing our debut full-length album with Bar/None Records this June
For a taste of what they’re like live, watch Parlour Tricks’ recent Audiotree session below: