Release Date: Apr 7, 2017
Record label: Bar/None Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock
You might be wondering how London three-piece Happyness could top 2014's Weird Little Birthday. Not only is it something of a hard act to follow - gaining rave reviews, awards and a tour support slot with the mighty Mac Demarco - but its very success poses something of a problem for the band's signature sound. The question is: is it possible to sustain their particular brand of awkward, off-beat slacker rock in the wake of such critical success? Write In definitely ushers in the beginning of something new for Happyness, marked by weightier arrangements and a new accessibility.
It's rare for bands, especially those who come from England, to openly acknowledge that they have a keen interest in emulating their American influences. Happyness do select all the check boxes if they're asked to about their favorite college rock bands on a questionnaire, but then again, haven't most post-seventies bands been emulating some past musical trend? So kudos to the South London trio for being so fully transparent about proudly turning that knob "left of the dial. " So in Write In, the follow-up to their bafflingly masterful debut Weird Little Birthday, Happyness are ready to leave behind their more compliant attitudes on those "what's your influence questions" influences to readily clarify that they're, well, just as willing to copy the English, too! But you know, if only they were't so goddamn good at it.
For their second album, Write In, English trio Happyness reach back into the sweet-dreamy sound they established on 2015's Weird Little Birthday, but emerge with a touch more serious, consistently reflective tone. They also veer a little from the slacker rock influence of their debut, seeming to carve out a space of their own near a convergence of '90s jangle, psychedelic-period Beatles, and Real Estate. They land closer to the latter on tunes like the scene-setting opener "Falling Down" and the ambling "Victor Lazarro's Heart." Elsewhere, after an R.E.M.-evoking intro, "Anna, Lisa Calls" carries a tune and harmonies that could be straight out of the British Invasion, if with a contemporary, hazier sound design.
Armed with the kind of wonky minds that lead that to writing songs about scalping popular indie musicians (Win Butler on early single ‘Montreal Rock Band Somewhere’) and a shelf full of Sparklehorse and Wilco records, London trio Happyness naturally fit in a more atypical box than most. Though 2014 debut ‘Weird Little Birthday’ had obvious roots in the offbeat charm of Pavement and the like, it was an album that beat to its own drum, lyrically meandering through tales of resenting Jesus for having the same birthday as you and the strange humour of naked, ill bodies in all their mis-functioning glory. While by no means abandoning this world view (‘The Reel Starts Again’ is subtitled ‘(Man As Ostrich)’: it’s fair to say there are still quirks on show), it makes the relative directness of much of follow up ‘Write In’ a whole new treat.
With their 2015 full-length debut, Weird Little Birthday, London trio Happyness generated a fair amount of rightful praise on both sides of the Atlantic. They were appreciated for their take on the shambling musicianship, wry humor and sharp wit of bands like Yo La Tengo and Pavement, and the heartbreaking sentiments of bands like Weezer and even the pre-dadrock sound of Wilco tossed in for good measure. In a sense, it basically compressed the better parts of late-80s/early-'90s indie rock into a single record.
It's normal for precocious young talent to first emulate those who have inspired them to follow in their footsteps. On the London trio's 2015 debut Weird Little Birthday, Happyness' interpretations of golden era alternative "slacker" rock invited comparisons to the lo-fi liveliness of groups like Pavement, Yo La Tengo, Sparklehorse, and The American Analog Set. On Write In, the boys have taken up the slack— no aside intended— tightening up the selection to 10 songs that articulate a honing of their astutely venerating translations.
Initially, the most striking difference between Write In and its 2014 predecessor Weird Little Birthday is length. At just ten tracks it's almost half the length of their debut. Another distinction between the releases is that whereas Weird Little Birthday was a DIY self-released effort, Write In is being put out by Moshi Moshi. However, despite being signed to a label, Happyness have stuck with their lo-fi approach recording it in their own makeshift studio for the princely sum of £500.