March 26, 2015

Review: Happyness | Weird Little Birthday

Often, bands elect to clean themselves up when entering a professional studio, to figuratively comb back their collective hair and don their best shared suit. What are seen as mistakes get edited out, a winning take gets punched in over top of an off-key vocal, or a guitar is redone to scrub out amp buzz and microphone hiss. Others acts, however, take the opposite route, and point to an album that includes random and imprecise moments as an authentic snapshot of the experience, and thus, life. London indie rock trio Happyness seemed to take the latter approach when making its vital and consistently rewarding 2014 album Weird Little Birthday, which -- after a successful year for the band -- arrives in an expanded re-release this week via Bar/None in the United States and Moshi Moshi Records in the UK.

Weird Little Birthday is an exercise in charming, mid-fi messiness, a record that leverages the limits of a traditional three-piece to create sonically rich music that finds fresh poignancy in the mistakes, flubs and the random blurts of feedback that most acts would never think to celebrate. Steeped in the sounds and methods of buzzy '90s indie rock, Happyness incorporates enough modern influences -- indeed, enough of themselves -- to enliven its chosen amalgamation of sounds. The single "Naked Patients" borrows a millenial hook from Jeff Tweedy and then rides a steady, Yo La Tengo-esque bass groove for the duration. But the tune is highlighted by elements that are all Happyness: a swooning vocal in the chorus, and open-ended and jagged guitar soloing, during which fuzz pedals are turned on and off seemingly at random.

The Yo La Tengo comparison feels particularly apt, in part because the legendary Adam Lasus -- whose first production credit appears to be YLT's masterful 1992 EP Upside-Down -- mixed Weird Little Birthday, and this record's thick, blocky beats evoke a sense of fun similar to that found in the early releases of Space Needle, another Lasus production credit. But comparing the Londoners' music to that of Hoboken's finest is more apt due to the way both bands allow compositions to spread and breathe into longer, noisier explorations. The finest tunes on Weird Little Birthday are notably long; the transcendent cuts "Weird Little Birthday Girl" and "Montreal Rock Band Somewhere" clock in at over eight and five minute respectively, and provide ample room to both play out beautiful melodic ideas via meandering lead guitar and color and shade with subtle backing vocals and keys.

One of the best, and probably under-appreciated, parts of the Happyness sound are its lyrics, which are packed with great lines, including the snarky and amusing jab "I'm wearing Win Butler's hair" in the aforementioned "Montreal Rock Band Somewhere." That tune and three others are what make the 2015 release of Weird Little Birthdaya so-called "expanded 2.0," and many of these previously served as b-sides to Happyness singles. Elsewhere, opener "Baby Jesus (Jelly Boy)" incorporates widely panned, double-tracked vocals that project a downcast sadness and texture that both disorients and soothes. Preview single "Great Minds Think Alike, All Brains Taste The Same" echoes slacker titans Pavement with its drawled verses (a comparison Happyness is probably as tired of hearing as Pavement was of hearing about its reverence for The Fall), while highlighting the trio's singular deadpan humor and violent imagery. The 2015 release of Weird Little Birthday marks the first time that the collection is available on wax within the good ol' U.S. of A, and you can purchase it from Bar/None right here. We also recommend visually consuming the threesome's new video "A Whole New Shape" which is over at Noisey, and this amazing live iteration of "Montreal Rock Band Somewhere" filmed at SXSW. Stream the entire expanded Weird Little Birthday via the Spotify embed below, and check out all of the band's remaining current U.S. tour dates below that. -- Edward Charlton

Happyness: Facebook | Soundcloud | Tumbledore

Upcoming U.S. Dates:
03.26 -- Boise, ID -- Treefort Music Festival
03.28 -- Los Angeles, CA -- The Echo
03.29 -- Santa Ana, CA -- Burgerama 2015
03.30 -- San Francisco, CA -- Bottom of the Hill
04.01 -- Portland, OR -- Mississippi Studios
04.03 -- Seattle, WA -- The Sunset Tavern
04.04 -- Missoula, MT -- Stage 112
04.06 -- St, Paul, MN -- Turf Club
04.07 -- Iowa City, IA -- Gabe's Oasis
04.08 -- Chicago, IL -- Subterranean
04.09 -- Cleveland, OH -- Happy Dog East
04.10 -- Middletown, CT -- Wesleyan University
04.11 -- Brooklyn, NY -- Baby's All Right
04.12 -- Manhattan, NY -- Cake Shop.

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