Happyness are a London trio that don’t place urgency anywhere remotely high on their list of prerogatives. Their music is a highbrow, thoroughly British adaptation of a slacker rock motif generally associated with the college scene from the other side of the pond, cutely equipped with an exquisite wit and a sardonic smirk. The band have followed up the release of an excellent self-titled EP at the turn of the year with an equally impressive LP, bringing together a horizontal conglomerate where Pumpkins indebted shoegazing, Pixies-esque frenetics and Marcy Playground-tinged playful grunge shelter under a lo-fi parasol.
Opening track Baby, Jesus encompasses the hazy blueprint from the outset, with a resentful but supremely subdued and restrained rant about how having a birthday on Christmas Day leaves frontman Benji Compston determined not to fade into second fiddle on his own special day for yet another year. Compston delivers this over a gorgeously warm, slow-paced guitar saunter that would have vied with the likes of Mayonaise and Soma for a berth on Siamese Dream. Naked Patients follows, with the band sounding like they’re dong their very best to perform the song as quietly as possible in the early hours so to avoid waking fractious neighbours. A rumbling bassline hums behind whispered vocals, and a warm, fuzzed guitar solo bears another nod to Billy Corgan and his Smashing Pumpkins.
Weird Little Birthday consistently boasts those gorgeous, warm, fuzz-laden guitars, but where it is at its strongest is undoubtedly lyrically. The delivery is hallmarked with an insolent sincerity, and an effortless conveyor belt of thinly veiled, tongue-in-cheek humour. Compston briefly touches on his love ‘interest’ (or lack thereof) in Great Minds Think Alike, All Brains Taste The Same, in which he mentions that the more he talks to her, the more he likes his dog. It’s a lyric that is indicative of the approach Happyness have to their songwriting, and is contextually appropriate to the progression of the album, where the tongue remains firmly in cheek and the candidness garnishes the seductive, fuzzed-out soundscapes perfectly.
This lushness continues with Orange Luz before an 80 second burst entitled Refrigerate Her brings the Pixies arrears to the forefront. Compston blasts his own stream of unconsciousness, telling of how he’d like a fridge to keep the aforementioned love interest in so that he can have her when he liked, without her going off. The warmth returns with the absurdly laid back Pumpkin Noir, before another switch to faster paced frenetics arrives. Anything I Do Is All Right is an organized burst of pace that maintains its structure and is the closest the band will come to showing urgency, before another drastic switch in approach arrives in the shape of title track Weird Little Birthday. Urgency drops to a generous 1/10 in this 8-and-a-half minute sprawler, which saunters by means of a hypnotic, circular riff with a huge circumference. Compston remarks “It’s a weird little song”, “She’s a weird little girlfriend”, and “We don’t really get along” in a contemplative section entirely intrinsic to the overall motif of this dysfunctional, but entirely appropriate, progression of Weird Little Birthday the LP.
The highlight of the self-titled EP dropped in January was It’s On You, and it remains a highlight following its graduation to the LP with its exhibition of serene progressions of fuzzed out chords and mismatching vocals. It kickstarts a home stretch which proves to be as strong as the start of the record, including with Leave The Party; another placid track with a subdued but governing bassline, and then Lofts, a track that portrays despondence and utter hopelessness, and the acceptance that no matter how far from perfect a relationship is, there is no use in clinging on when differences evolve to be too pronounced. Again, the lyrical content is disparagingly sincere, but delivered in a controlled and gorgeously candid manner. Monkey in the City bookends Weird Little Birthday with a sense of finality and optimism, and closes a superb debut album.
Weird Little Birthday is intensely laid back, even at its more frenetic moments, mostly due to the ever-warm guitars, the themes explored, and the disparagingly honest way in which they are lyrically delivered. The wit is natural, the sardonics remain subtle and never become overbearing, and the lo-fi/slacker canvas leaves for a consistently quiescent humidity throughout the album. Influences are acknowledged and used to great effect to oversee the progression and direction changes throughout the record, and ultimately, Happyness have produced an extremely impressive album that will rank among some of the best that an excellent 2014 has to offer thus far. Lyrically exceptional, quietly intelligent and hugely uplifting, Weird Little Birthday is a superb debut, beautifully recorded, with everything in its right place. 82% scored.
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