A debut record that’s “not quite a concept album about a boy who shares his birthday with Jesus Christ and eventually is driven insane with jealousy”, you say? Sounds ambitious, and with a large probability of going, at the very least, awry. However, that’s exactly what South Londoners Happyness have made. At the very least, you’ve gotta admire that moxie.
Indebted to college rock and the ‘90s fuzzmeisters like Yo La Tengo, Sparklehorse and Pavement, this ‘jangle-gaze’ trio have garnered a fair amount of praise and airplay in the first half on 2014 for their adroit grasp of guitars and gorgeously warm scuzz noises. For their debut album, entitled Weird Little Birthday, they take those themes and ideas, and sprint with them towards greatness. Despite the album chronicling/not chronicling a rather strange topic, they manage to create a collection of infectious, bathing-in-cotton-wool fuzz that, while definitely nodding to a lost of past acts, is something for a modern audience also.
“Baby Jesus (Jelly Boy)” begins Happyness’ surreal spiel and bizarre story – “I’m the motherfucking birthday boy/don’t steal my thunder Baby Jesus,” – with serenity and dulcet grace. It’s calm and vaguely otherworldly, probably akin to the inside of a Sensory Deprivation Chamber, with twinkling guitar and sublime lo-fi harmonies threshed by FX. Continuing the theme of frankly weird song titles, “Great Minds Think Alike, All Brains Taste The Same”, “Pumpkin Noir” and “Regan’s Lost Weekend (Porno Queen)” imply an off-the-wall strangeness. However, when it comes to actual timbre, they careen between lite-grunge and pop-rock – not a bad thing, and actually quite welcome given the scenarios presented. Instead of boisterous, outlandish experiments, we’re presented with fairly grounded music.
It’s not all introspective noodling and melancholia, however. There are a few instances of Happyness colouring outside the lines, as on “Weird Little Birthday Girl”, that proves they can leap out of the rank’n’file if needed. The track is an almost nine-minute paean of minimalist (as in slowly evolving entwined rhythms as opposed to sparse) motifs and fretwork, worming its way through vast chasms of instrumental rock.
The band also demonstrate that they can turn from the navel-gazing three-piece with a penchant for anxiety and self-reflection into a rousing, raucous triad with punk tendencies. Take “Refrigerate Her”, which touches base with Pixies and thrashes around like a cat in a bath. “It’s On You” also whacks up the pace and volume, changing up the aura of their sound with female harmonies, and taking a more standard pop structure. It’s definitely one of the more immediate cuts here.
Happyness have been bolstered by acclaim in recent months – their eponymous EP was pretty great – and are showing on Weird Little Birthday that that’s not all hot air. They’ve got big ideas and big talent, and hopefully in the near future we’ll see those traits realised in titanic tracks. Obviously a notable point of college/slacker stuff is a general malaise or apathy, but with a kick up the arse, Happyness could be ruling many a roost.