Release Date: Jun 16, 2014
Record label: N/A
Happyness are a London trio that don’t place urgency anywhere remotely high on their list of prerogatives. Their music is a highbrow, thoroughly British adaptation of a slacker rock motif generally associated with the college scene from the other side of the pond, cutely equipped with an exquisite wit and a sardonic smirk. The band have followed up the release of their excellent self-titled EP at the turn of the year with an equally impressive LP, bringing together a horizontal conglomerate where Pumpkins indebted shoegazing, Pixies-esque frenetics and Marcy Playground-tinged playful grunge shelter under a lo-fi parasol.
London trio Happyness might have adapted their sonic template from American college/indie rock bands like Pavement, Rilo Kiley and Sparklehorse, but the wit and lyrical context of their music is all British. Songs on this impressive debut album are lovely but droll; equally capable of making you feel fuzzy and anxious. “There’s something funny about a sick body and the things that it does that it shouldn’t do,” begins ‘Naked Patients’ and ‘Orange Luz’ has an equally diverting opening: “You are so ugly when you’re smiling.” They’re dry and clever, taking inspiration from the weird and disturbing left turns in the writing of Cormac McCarthy to create songs that somehow express a deep sense of youthful ennui.
If it hasn't been exactly a tidal wave, then there's at least been a ripple of a revival in early 90s US slacker rock in the UK over the last few years, with the likes of Mazes and Yuck. They're followed by the London trio Happyness, whose debut is a low-key joy. Weird Little Birthday is beautifully recorded, and everything sounds in the right place, delivering exactly what it needs to: it has a humid, enervated air, like a too-long afternoon in the park with too many bottles of wine.
For a band hailing from South London, Happyness' debut Weird Little Birthday is the sort of music perfect for hazy, morning-after walks down sun-drenched American streets. While it initially comes off as ragged, lo-fi, and maybe even a bit haphazard, Weird Little Birthday is more enduring than its casualness and wry intimacy might initially suggest. There are plenty of obvious touchstones here, primarily the scuzzier corners of '90s American indie, but Happyness deftly moves between sprawling moodiness and quicker, quippier songs in a manner that displays more thought and maturity than an evident debt to their sonic forebears would imply; it also allows them to transcend the stray overly juvenile lyric.
Happyness is a trio out of South London, whose fragile, twisted little songs follow frosted-sweet melodic lines through corroded colloquial landscapes. Look up for orientation from the middle of Weird Little Birthday and the closest large landmark is likely Pavement, but you’ll also catch scraps of Wilco, Neutral Milk Hotel, Jesus & Mary Chain and Guided By Voices. Weird Little Birthday threads a meandering way through a sort-of story about a boy who shares a birthday with Jesus (grudgingly), beginning with the tremulous “Baby Jesus (Jello Boy).” The cut is radiant, spare and lovely, with guitars that refract the light and whispery vocals that slip into your head.
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.