Bringing the lo-fi charm of ’90s indie-rock into the 21st century, you’d be mistaken to think that London trio Happyness were a bygone product of America’s underground 80’s college-rock scene. But their debut album ‘Weird Little Birthday’ propelled Jon EE Allan (Bass/vocals), Benji Compston (Guitar/vocals) and Ash Cooper (Drums) to the forefront of so called, ‘jangle-gaze’, where main stage slots and UK and US tours with Mac DeMarco, Speedy Ortiz, even Brit-pop icons Suede inevitably soon followed.
Drawing influence from a who’s who of US Indie-rock, from Yo La Tengo to Pavement, Sparklehorse and The Velvet Underground, Happyness’ own brand of hazy post-Grunge earned them widespread acclaim from critics and fans alike, whilst their 2015 debut made it onto many an end of year list. Returning in 2017 with their hugely anticipated sophomore record, ‘Write In’, it’s a game-changer for the Bermondsey slackers, flirting with woozy dream-pop whilst still very much marrying the former with their charismatic indie fuzz.
(Image courtesy of Prescription PR)
From the first few notes of swirling, shoegaze-esque guitar felt on opening track ‘Falling Down’, it’s apparent that there’s an interesting, and subtly new element to Happyness’ sound. Described by bassist Jon EE Allan as “one of many anti-overthinking songs”, it’s melancholy tones and washes of gentle percussion gently unravel as the track chugs along
‘The Reel Starts Again’ marks similarly unfamiliar ground; a grand piano-led ballad spattered with slivers of warbling guitar that could’ve stumbled mischievously off of a Paul McCartney record. ‘Through Windows’ is again a touching lullaby, its sublime piano melody balanced by that same wry sense of humour that underpins the song’s killer chorus .
“…The chorus [‘Through Windows’] started out as a kind of purposeful mishearing of “Ride Into The Sun” by The Velvet Underground – I used to think it could just as easily be heard as “Right Into…”, or “Write In To”…”
–Jon EE Allan
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Happyness had found a new lease of life as mop-haired pedal merchants, however the band still grasp to the quirky pop-like charm that made ‘Weird Little Birthday’ so uniquely special. For example, ‘Anytime’ bears a dirty, Sonic Youth-like chug reminiscent of the trio’s earliest releases, scuzzy, crunching riffs accompanied by Jon EE’s signature bass line. It more than matches the affectionate slacker intensity of the band’s debut.
In other areas, including on the tender, slow jam amble of ‘Victor Lazarro’s Heart’ and the raspingly delivered “Uptrend/Style Raids”, Happyness write and play with a sincerity somewhat less visible on ‘Weird Little Birthday’. Where the trio’s 2015 debut prided itself on its wonderful absurdity (see the interestingly titled ‘Great Minds Think Alike, All Brains Taste The Same’ and ‘Baby, Jesus (Jelly Boy) etc.), there’s a sense of mindful maturity on ‘Write In’.
“I think this record is saying there’s a massive world outside this little American alt-rock sphere we were looking in on…I don’t think the anti-earnest thing we had is as present anymore. Part of what’s opened up is just being able to be tender or heartfelt without feeling guilty about it”
–Jon EE Allan
Recent single ‘Bigger Glass Less Full’ is a rollicking, 2-minute fuzz number; caked in unruly distortion, it shows Happyness flexing their musical muscles with gritty riffs equally balanced by Compston’s floaty vocals. Going out with more of a sigh than a bang, near epic album closer ‘Tunnel Vision On Your Part’ (taken from the 2016 EP of the same name) showcases almost everything that makes Happyness a top flight band, from its sweet, simple melody and sharp lyrical wit, down to the disjointed stabs of piano that close the track, as melancholy chants of “…as the credits roll forever” pierce the curtain of droning reverb.
As ever Happyness are at their most content, and often their best when most carefree, penning reflective, and achingly romantic slacker-rock that’s never lyrically or musically lazy. Whilst ‘Write In’ may fall short in expectations of ‘Weird Little Birthday’s most die-hard fans, in fact the album bursts with fuzzy character, taking in elements of hypnotic psychedelia and oozing dream-pop within its sumptuous hooks and laid-back melodies. The entire record radiates a certain West Coast vibe a world away from its uninspiring beginnings, a dusty and dis-used bookshop in South London, the thoughtfully named ‘Jelly Boy Studios”. ‘Write In’ is an impressive and bold step forward for Happyness, who knows where it will take them.
‘Write In’ track listing:
The Reel Starts Again [Man As Ostrich]
Bigger Glass Less Full
Victor Lazarro’s Heart
Anna, Lisa Calls
The C is A B A G
Tunnel Vision On Your Part
‘Write in’ is released this Friday (7/4) on Moshi Moshi Records, whilst the band set out on a nationwide tour later this month with support from Liverpool jangle-pop duo, Her’s. I’ve listed these dates below and you can buy tickets from the See Tickets link right here. A huge thank you to Moshi Moshi Records and Prescription PR for giving us first listen to this superb album.
Happyness April 2017 UK tour:
11, The Fulford Arms, York
12, Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
13, Picture House Social, Sheffield
14, The Cellar, Oxford
15, Olby’s Cafe, Margate
18, The Hope & Ruin, Brighton
19, The Louisiana, Bristol
20, Buyer’s Club, Liverpool
21, Whelan’s, Dublin (Ireland)
22, The Hug and Pint, Glasgow
24, Think Tank? Newcastle
25, Gullivers, Manchester
26, Hare & Hounds, Birmingham
28, The Dome, Tufnell Park, London
Words by Joe Bulger
Featured image courtesy of DIY Magazine, photographer unknown