July 1, 2015 09:00 AM

Happyness – Weird Little Birthday

Happyness is not a warm gun but rather a trio from UK making lazy slacker college rock like Pavement, Wilco and Yo La Tango.  Tracks are warm and fuzzy, pushed through gauzy filters to capture the haze of a British morning fog rising from a soaked field.  If you were upset with the 2010 death of Mark Linkous from Sparklehorse, you will be thrilled with this collection of songs and their production treatments on WLB.  Album opener, Baby, Jesus (Jelly Boy), about a boy who is upset to have his thunder stolen by sharing his birthday with Jesus, sounds so much like Spirit Ditch, you might hear Linkous’ spirit floating through.  

Sonically the album benefits from good headphones, a dark room and a soft blanket. Double tracked vox effects on most tracks with oft-whispered lyrics tell tales of suburban parties and the mundanity of drifting millennium living. Guitars oscillate between jangly jagged plucks and steadily driving strums (think Yo La Tengo or Velvet Underground). Lyrically each track is distinct – from a twisted look at Regan from The Exorcist to the humor that front man Allan found in the roles everyone plays in a hospital in Naked PatientsFor my money the contender for best lyric comes as, “I’m wearing Win Butler’s hair/There’s a scalpless singer in a Montreal rock band somewhere” on Montreal Rock Band. Shorter tracks like Refrigerate Her, that stray into slower off-the-beaten-path may turn off some listeners, but they are typically shorter and provide a sonic sorbet from other tracks.

Matthew E. White – Fresh Blood

Rising star Matthew E. White’s Fresh Blood picks up where the neo-rock-soul of his debut, Big Inner, left off. White whispers lyrics like Marvin Gaye telling secrets alternating from baritone to falsetto. Horns punch the air to keep the mood up; strings swell to provide a compliment to White’s mellifluous vocals.  

Hard to shoehorn into one genre, Fresh Blood is soulful, but rocking like Memphis meets Muscle Schoals. Wispy yet strong vocals, light touches on a keyboard and occasionally strummed guitar make opening track Take Care My Baby float like looking down on a cloud blocking out the dirty grime of the city below, even if the lyrics tackle no new ground.  
Second song and first single, Rock & Roll Is Cold, pokes fun of the rock & roll genre (“It don’t have no soul”), R&B (“It don’t have no key”), and gospel licks (“They don’t have no tricks”). Up-tempo rhythms and “la la la” gospel backing vocals keep spirits light.

The first six songs refuse to allow me to stay in a bad mood. Track seven, Tranquility, a cryptic ballad to the memory of Philip Seymour Hoffman is just too slow – a 45 played at 33 1/3 — and the following two songs seem stunted by their tempo with nothing to break from the melancholy.  Closer, Love is Deep, returns to form, but is not a big enough carrot to wait for. Fresh Blood boasts a stellar A side but a forgetful B side.

About the Author

J Burr Vannatta is a lifelong music critic with prior stints at Southern and Sugar Free Records. His new release list has been highly-regarded for more than 25 years. He is the guy on top of the newest bands when your friends are still listening to Mellencamp (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and might have even made a mix tape for your girlfriend in the ‘90’s.  Spotify at jbvannatta. @jbvannatta