Following up a critically-acclaimed debut is never an easy feat. Speaking frankly, there’s really only two ways it can go – brilliantly, or shit. South London’s Happyness achieved both mainstream and cult success with 2014’s Weird Little Birthday, a slacker triumph that threw us all back to the surf-rock dominant 90s.
Now, 2017 sees the release of sophomore effort Write In. Recorded in the now demolished (and affectionately named) Jelly Boy Studios, and mixed in L.A. by Adam Lasus, Write In marks a newer and more mature chapter for the ever-zany trio. Bursting with ballads and peering outside the American college-rock bubble for the first time, round two from Happyness feels a lot less silly and a lot more serious.
On first listen, you wouldn’t be wrong to assume that jazz is Happyness’ new favourite genre. ‘Falling Down’ kicks things off with a descending guitar riff that’s polished as opposed to fuzz-drenched. ‘Through Windows’ mimics The Velvet Underground with its complex drums and repeated cymbal taps; high-pitched harmonies in ‘The C is A B A G’ call to mind acapella groups of the 1950’s. Write In immediately feels less scrappy and more refined – the result of a richer-sounding production and a slight move away from those angsty younger days.
However, don’t be fooled into thinking that Happyness have lost their magic. ‘Bigger Glass Less Full’ sounds exactly like it’s walked off Weird Little Birthday, with distorted vocals and whining, twisted guitar notes to boot. ‘Anytime’ is an unchanging approach that still harnesses the lazy sound that made Happyness so special in the first place. ‘The Reel Starts Again [Man As Ostrich]’ and ‘Victor Lazarro’s Heart’ prove exactly why vocalists/multi-instrumentalists Benji Compston and Jon E.E. Allan remain the kings of chord structures. The latter’s dreamy and enchanting outro is undeniably one of the most beautiful few minutes of music written as of late.
‘Anna, Lisa Calls’ (released back in August) and ‘Uptrend _ Style Raids’ are Write In’s highlights – and what highs they are. Happyness have never made a secret of their love for Pavement, and their influence is felt on the swooping harmonies of ‘Anna, Lisa Calls’. ‘Uptrend_ Style Raids’ is home to the grooviest riff on the whole album – one that guarantees to get stuck in your head for days. ‘Tunnel Vision On Your Part’ is the perfect album closer, its daydream-esque glockenspiel chimes preparing to lull you to sleep.
Final thoughts? Write In doesn’t smack you in the face; it’s a melodic slow-grower that plays out like a melancholic film. It’s certainly more piano-driven than anything Happyness have ever done before. If you’ve been there since day one, you might be left yearning for more of that slacker guitar sound we’ve all come to expect – but remind yourself that this is a follow-up album showcasing maturity and growth. If Weird Little Birthday was a stoned college kid, then Write In is it’s wine-drinking, brie-consuming older brother.
Catch Happyness live this April :
11 – York – The Fulford Arms*
12 – Leeds – Brudenell Social Club*
13 – Sheffield – Picture House Social*
14 – Oxford – The Cellar*
18 – Brighton – The Hope & Ruin*
19 – Bristol – The Louisiana*
20 – Liverpool – Buyers Club*
21 – Dublin – Whelan’s
22 – Glasgow – The Hug and Pint*
24 – Newcastle – Think Tank?*
25 – Manchester – Gullivers*
26 – Birmingham – Hare & Hounds*
28 – London – The Dome, Tufnell Park*
30 – Leicester – Handmade Festival
* – w/ Her’s