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.

ALBUM REVIEW: Meilyr Jones “2013”


It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of Meilyr Jones, or his former band Race Horses. It doesn’t matter if you think Jones is English, when in fact, he’s a Welshman. It doesn’t even matter if you’re stumped on how exactly to pronounce “Meilyr”-because an authoritative voice tells you within the first 30 seconds of 2013’s opening track “How To Recognise A Work of Art.”

These things cease to matter, not because they are uninteresting, but because it is such a great record that it speaks for itself. It stands on its own two feet.

2013 is many things-a contemporary foray into baroque and renaissance influences, a brilliant pop record, a sonic odyssey with innumerable peaks and valleys. But it is also a love letter to Rome, the breeding ground for many of songs on the album. After the disbandment of Race Horses and the end of a relationship, Jones romantically fled to the ancient city, catalyzed by reading art history texts and Byron’s Don Juan. “I got really taken over by the feeling of adventure and passion in Byron, and some of Shelley’s poetry and Keats as well. And they were all people who went to Rome.” Jones mentioned in a press release.

And so along with everything else, 2013 has yet another incarnation, as a scrapbook of Jones’s time in Rome, and everything he loves in general. “I wanted to make something that felt right to me and expressed my interests, which are classical music and rock ‘n’ roll music, and films, and nature and karaoke, and tacky stuff,” Jones says. “And I wanted to capture that feeling in Rome of high culture and low-brow stuff all mixed together.” For a record so difficult to nail down, it is comforting to know that such a stew of influences went into making it.

It might amaze you, as it did me, that five of the twelve tracks on 2013 were recorded live in all of one day with a 30 plus piece orchestra that Jones assembled himself. Jones told press that he “wanted to record it completely live. The idea was doing it like a Frank Sinatra session.” And that idea certainly comes across in the grand arrangements Jones has served up.

He’s a songwriter with big ideas, delivering lofty compositions of the finest kind. “How To Recognise A Work Of Art” confirms the pop chops Jones has been refining since his days in Race Horses, the sweeping orchestral arrangements bringing a whole new dimension to otherwise infectious hooks.



“Don Juan” slows the record down to a honeyed melancholy, which is the only place to go after a banger such as “How To Recognise A Work Of Art.” Inspired by the same poem that led him to Italy, “Don Juan” is a nod to the baroque with subtle harpsichord and recorder riffs. The opening notes remind me of the exoticism found in The Stranglers’ “Golden Brown,” a similar genre-bending track. While straying from gimmick, “Don Juan” does render a lush image of open-bloused sirs flung upon velvet divans, drinking not from cups, but goblets.  

One of the most compelling aspects of Jones’s songs is that they behave more like Classical compositions or film scores than traditional pop music. They never end where they began, and traverse twisting paths the whole way through. “Passionate Friend” thumps along like the opening number in a sinister musical, the first words to which are nearly whispered by Jones: “Sometimes I am with the witches//on fire, fast and ruined//sometimes all around, with the honey in me, I quicken.”

“Refugees” is the emotional core of 2013, seemingly the most obvious breakup song. The leading single off the record, it is the first song I heard by Meilyr Jones, and it continues to resonate deeply with me. It is spare enough to exhibit his incredible talent; there are no bells, whistles, or harpsichords, just Jones at the piano with his striking choirboy voice.



2013 is an album in two acts, bisected on either side of “Rain In Rome,” an instrumental that melds organ with pattering raindrops and violent applause. It is a joyous palette cleanser, as the remainder of the album will volley from straight up rock with “Strange Emotional” to classical dramas such as “Return To Life” and “Olivia,” the latter of which features an operatic choir. There is a lot going on here, but I wouldn’t change it a bit.

I could all too easily write a synopsis of every track on this record, which is something I am rarely compelled to do…but 2013 is that wonderful. There isn’t a mediocre song on it. If you like Kate Bush, Van Morrison, The Zombies, if you like classical, eccentric, baroque, chamber, psychedelic, garage, or just slickly written pop, I recommend, beg, entreat you: give Meilyr Jones a chance. You will never be bored again.

2013 is out now via Moshi Moshi Records.


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