Festival mainstays of recent years, Circa Waves, arrive at their fourth EP with a luxury that artists of their breed are seldom afforded; the space and platform from which to grow, both sonically and culturally.
The four-piece have cultivated a solid fanbase over five years or so of relentlessly releasing and touring new material. Circa Waves are also still picking up attention from mainstream press, without dragging the albatross of a huge breakthrough campaign – which has plagued the forward momentum of Indie-pop artists such as The Kooks and Foster The People. In short, this album has the perfect springboard from which to propel itself, taking the group into new domains.
Sad Happy is a double album of sorts, with its first seven tracks – focused on the theme of happiness – being released in January. The album’s second component, seven tracks that pertain to sadness, are now joining the collection, to make one 14-track portfolio. The idea in itself is an admirable move into some kind of conceptualism from the Scouse band, showing a willingness to progress beyond the confines of their cut and paste approach to previous album releases.
Happy, part one of this album, opens with ‘Jacqueline’; an uplifting, festival-ready single that would not be out of place on a Vampire Weekend LP. As opening album statements go, it is catchy and successfully conjures – if nothing else – the sense of happiness.
The album’s second track, ‘Be Your Drug’, follows a repetitive refrain, sitting on a fuzzy classic rock riff. A building crescendo throughout the track is another promising signal that Circa Waves are looking to shoehorn shades of depth into the LP, but the result feels like a diluted Foals B-side.
Sad Happy’s seven new additions, grouped under the subheading Sad, offer more substantial songwriting. Album namesake, ‘Sad Happy’, and ‘Wake Up Call’, both harbour pleasant keyboard riffs and if you hadn’t clocked the tracklisting, you’d be forgiven for failing to realise that the album has, in fact, rolled into its ‘sad’ half.
In fact, the full narrative of the album would benefit greatly from a tracklist reshuffle. Richard Ashcroft-tinged ‘The Thing We Knew Last Night’ is a reflective, acoustic number that features on Happy.
‘Sympathy’ and ‘Hope There’s A Heaven’ are more on-theme melancholic offerings for the latter half. And album interlude, ‘Train To Lime Street’ (bizarrely not placed at the intersection of the two halves), is a great mood-setting instrumental.
Album closer ‘Birthday Cake’ ties up the release nicely and works as a well matched counterpart to upbeat opener ‘Jacqueline’. Like so many tracks in Circa Waves’ catalogue, however, too many of the filler tracks on Sad Happy suffer from being little more than ‘nice songs’ that don’t warrant further exploration.
Props to the band for reaching for new horizons. God knows the genre is crying out for more of this kind of inventive thinking, but Circa Waves would benefit from seeing these ideas through with more conviction. Definitely a band worth catching on a festival afternoon, but unless Circa Waves start to build upon the platform they have created for themselves with more bravery, they risk being condemned to the dreaded Indie landfill.