When Happyness came on the go with debut single, “It’s On You”, their form of US college rock took everybody by surprise. Resulting album, Weird Little Birthday, went on to feature in many End of Year album lists.
Worldwide tours, an NME Award, a reissue on the much-loved label, Moshi Moshi Recordings (Bar/None in US), and millions of Spotify plays later, it is time today (April 7) for their long-awaited follow-up, Write In.
Part-recorded at the band’s own Jelly Boy Studios, then finished with Adam Lasus in LA, the album is a huge stride forward. It’s perhaps encouraging that the album inspired in this reviewer comparisons to Foo Fighters, John Lennon and George Harrison.
You begin “Falling Down”, opening despondent, but with an energy that seems to indicate hope, however far away. The ambient patter of drums indicates a crescendo, however slight. You hear the bass and you know the energy is about to lift. The time signature changes and that hope seems to have arrived, at least partially.
The breathy vocals drag their heels, but the overall feel is that of love lost, rather than never having been reached at all. The hook cleverly descends in “down”, the word elongated to further the effect. What seems like dramatic strings really pile the emotional intensity, grave and tragic.
The curious “The Reel Starts Again (Man As Ostrich)” opens with, yes, tragic piano, and wavy, mournful guitar. The latter, fuzzy and almost wailing, seems rooted in Seventies rock. “Trouble realigned/Nothing really on my mind” conveys almost a reverie of blankness, no real thought registering.
That aforementioned fuzzy guitar plays, in turn, quite expressive in manner. Overall quite a pleasant, hazy track evoking bathing in the sun and doing not much else. The guitar rings out as a flourish of piano chord sees the track out.
“Anytime”, in turn, rings in. It’s got a driving energy, distorted and fuzzy. The bass is deep but bobs and weaves melodically. You hear the tragedy of the instrumentation, and the vocals announce themselves layered above. So much so it might catch you off guard, jumping out your seat. The whole thing seems like an early Foo Fighters track.
Then “Through Windows”, has John Lennon “Imagine” type piano, at least at first. The vocals are clear and so seems the instrumentation. The vocals, urging “right into the sun”, are beautiful. Sunny, even. It mixes almost spoken, breathed, words with the slightly more graceful of voice following. It fades out rather calmly, peaceful.
“Uptrend/Style Raids” has an ascending guitar line, as other, more wavy guitar comes in and out intermittently. These latter intermittent chords become more emphatic as the track goes on. The midway point comes and you’re locked in the cyclical reverie, almost a pleasing trance.
Then the effect is furthered as the bass, too, joins in on the ascending line. A swelling of feedback is then fit to burst, a slow building of cacophony. These seeming horns give way to what are quite pleasing, pattering drums, very almost jazzy in their essence.
“Bigger Glass Less Full” is a dirty, distorted, driving rocker. The vocals are despairing, pleading for some sort of mercy. At just over two minutes, the song ends before you know it. Maybe you’d tire of it quicker if it were the typical length that that sound usually encompasses? Clever in a way, you could maybe argue.
Then there’s “Victor Lazarro’s Heart” returning to that pattering feel of the drums. It’s despondent but the pattering feel is pleasant, almost soothing. The chiming, jangly guitar is soft and delicate, like, perhaps, the strain of the constitution of said man’s heart. Like having to live life at a snail’s pace for the danger of being susceptible to a heart attack, maybe.
When “Anna Lisa Calls” it’s like a high energy version of a George Harrison track (“My Sweet Lord”), exalting thanks to the high and mighty above. Come beyond the midway point, the energy feels amplified. The same effect as a well-placed key change to lift one’s spirits higher. This then rings out with suitable feedback and sheer rock and roll energy.
“The C Is A B A G” is a ponderous one, sedate and thoughtful. Once again, pattering of the drums can be heard, and the effect is relaxing. The guitar winds down the track with some expertly used arpeggios, slowing down for the fadeout.
Write In ends things with “Tunnel Vision On Your Part”, a good way to end things, suitably emotional and climatic. “As the credits roll forever” amplifies the sense of tragedy, a fatalistic one that seems resigned to defeat and misery. Like the martyr knowing that girl would be happier with someone else other than himself.
“…fallen over backwards” head first against the concrete kerb seems to imply the pain of letting go might be harder to calculate than first envisioned. A rather melodic, meaningful solo conveys this tragedy with great feel and eloquence.
Discordant piano hints at humour, or is it the misshapen way that life turns out? It either proves the guys don’t take themselves too seriously, or that they’re masters of unconventional ways of conveying sheer emotion through instrumentation.
Looking back, highlights of the album are “Falling Down”, “Uptrend/Style Raids”, “Anna Lisa Calls”, and “Tunnel Vision On Your Part”. These selections cover the start, approximate middle and the end of the project. Four standout tracks from a ten track duration is a reasonable return, with many of the tracks not up with those prior excellent considerations being, at least, very good.
Happyness are spaced out but not empty and of little substance. Their music is ambient but more about than just ringing out. It’s also put together in such a way that aspects of subsequent songs evoke aspects in songs prior. It meshes together like some elaborate spider’s web, all interconnected. Happyness’ In Write can be heard on iTunes here.
Words by Andrew Watson