Happyness are a three-piece alternative rock band from South London, comprising of multi-instrumentalists Jonny Allan (guitar/bass), Benji Compston (guitar) and Ash Cooper, with Jonny and Benji sharing vocal duties and Ash on the drums.
The group’s name apparently comes from a Brute Force song, “Hello Moscow”: “Where is happiness, people? Where is happiness?” Moreover, the band have went some way towards explaining the misspelling of happiness as a tribute to a Happy Shopper brand of convenience goods: “It’s probably more of a ‘satisfied with the quality and standard of…’ kind of happy. Like Happy Shopper”.
They also have the honour of 2015 NME Award for Best Lyric for the tad strange line “I’m wearing Win Butler’s hair/There’s a scalpless singer of a Montreal rock band somewhere” from the song “Montreal Rock Band Somewhere”. Their latest EP, Tunnel Vision On Your Part, was released on Friday, September 23.
Kicking things off is “Anna, Lisa Calls”, opening sounding like a jangly version of Whitesnake’s “Fool For Your Lovin’”, before deploring melancholy vocals kick in. The chorus fares in with weighty power, hooking you right in. The backing vocals of “oohs” and “aahs” is both melodic and cathartic, washing over the listener. The closing moments, subtle in a way, are passionate before a ring out.
“Friend Of The Revolution”, is whimsical and contemplative. It has vibes of sadness, perhaps love unrequited. Certainly a tad mellower than the track it follows. The rhythm has a tragic feel to it, despondent and teary eyed. In fact, concerning the track’s title, it seems that the band’s efforts towards said revolution are half hearted, seemingly, because of said despondency.
The, at times, surprising “SB’s Truck”, is quite quiet and, again, melancholy. Moments of it get nice, busy and melodic. Clearly these moments involve instrumentation and melodic complexity that you’d maybe not associate with some of this shoegazing variety. Distorted lead guitar moments, on the other hand, lend it some grit said shoe gazers would be too afraid to delve into. Backing vocals add a depth similar to the first track, plus what seems like well deployed, tuneful whistling of some sort.
“Surfer Girl” certainly isn’t Beach Boys idolatry, rather a certain bassy swing to it. Not much evocative of riding the crest of a wave, more lazy days sitting on the beach. A tad creepy vibe makes one wonder if it’s a song of obsession concerning a voyeur, daresay nudist beach, or a song of love dedicated to a certain special girl in their life.
Winding things down is “Tunnel Vision On Your Part”, and is perhaps the title track for a reason. It seems depressed and rousing at the same time. Maybe the soul sucking sadness before reaching that final goal, that elation as you climb the highest peaks.
Layers of what appear to be organ ring with a sustenance that make the overall piece a mournful and beautifully sombre, daresay, anthem. Climatic beats of the drum lend it an extra drama. You actually wonder if it will be a happy ending, or, romantically, the one that got away and the protagonist having to accept this. A clattering end with discordant piano, with subsequent ring out, appear to leave the perceived end to this a little ambiguous.
There isn’t a dud track on this entire effort, though “SB’s Truck” and title track, and closer, “Tunnel Vision On Your Part”, merit special consideration. Apparently the former is actually about a certain Samuel Beckett, who famously used to give the beloved, late, Eighties wrestler André The Giant lifts to school in his truck, because the latter was too big for a regular car.
The intrigue of this already adds to the fact it’s a track of unexpected instrumentation and melodic complexity, on top of the fact its distorted lead guitar moments are equally surprising. Basically a grasp of light and shade, melodic and guttural, you maybe wouldn’t expect from the majority of those within the genre which this band generally straddles.
“Tunnel Vision On Your Part”, on the other hand, deploys similar contrasting aspects, though just in a different way. Like how the previous highlight mixes brooding melody with brazen licks, this one weighs, somehow, at the same time, both depressed despondency and rousing, urging to the feet motivation. Also, given the ending, the listener can concoct their own end to the EP, or story arc.
Both, in short, seem to convey a certain dichotomy. Maybe the latter and, to an extent, the previous track, convey a certain conflict, perhaps like the long, hard fight in life, the glory of dying on your feet and not living on your knees. This rather than giving in, meandering throughout life for the sake of not rocking the boat or bucking trends.
A cursory glance over the other tracks, like opener, “Anna, Lisa Calls”, would perhaps only be fair, too. The way it, for instance, has a certain harking back to, though reworking of, Whitesnake’s “Fool For Your Lovin’” is very satisfying, along with those backing vocals and hooking chorus. “Friend Of The Revolution”, and how it conveys the tragically despondent and teary eyed, so much so that any revolution is incapable of happening, or they’re just too half arsed to follow it through, is quite clever.
This focusing on perhaps unexpected aspects is arguably as well dealt with in “Surfer Girl” as anywhere else on the EP. You don’t get a The Beach Boys-esque surfing song, as animated as the waves but, instead, a lazy beach bum song focused on still sands. Also, is it stalking obsession, or passionate, mutual love?
Happyness, with this EP, have really covered all bases, every ounce of effort put into each track, none half baked filler. The attention to detail, and having dual, opposing aspects in the same song, is commendable. Happyness’s Tunnel Vision On Your Part EP can be heard on iTunes here.
Words by Andrew Watson