From their unconventional beginnings to their songwriting and live performances, Happyness refuse to play by the rules. Their debut album Weird Little Birthday, self-produced and released in 2015 before they had even played a single gig, established the former trio as any nineties indie lover’s lo-fi wet dream. Yet, despite their sound, Happyness are anything but a cookie-cutter guitar band. Following Benji Compston’s departure after their second record, Write In, remaining members Jonny Allan and Ash Kenazi turned over a new leaf, recruiting musicians from Yuck, Social Contract and Heavy Heart to add depth to their live shows. Kenazi’s decision to embrace his drag persona has also brought another layer of playfulness to both their performances and their song lyrics.
The duo’s third album Floatr is testament to Allan and Kenazi’s ability to push forward without Compston and maintain their reputation as one of London’s finest cult bands. Continuing with their moody, rain-soaked sound, Happyness pay homage to the nineties heavy-weights from whom they clearly draw inspiration: there are notes of early Radiohead and Elliott Smith in Allan’s vocal delivery; a hint of Pavement in the tongue-in-cheek lyricism; a nod to My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive in the atmospheric ennui of each track. That’s not to say that Happyness are stuck in the last century – there’s something distinctly contemporary about their attitude and a self-deprecating millennial angst runs through every note on the album. In the single ‘Vegetable’, the chorus encapsulates an adolescent feeling of hopelessness that would not seem out of place on a Tumblr account in 2014 (“Even as the rain gets on my back/ I know I’m bound for nothin’/ Even as my head overreacts/ I know I’m barely somethin’”). The album’s lyrics are also peppered with modern references, with ‘Vegetable’ mentioning drag culture and vaping in the space of two lines (“I could read you to filth/ I could vape all your fog”).
However, listening to Floatr, I can’t help but think that Happyness have done this before and wonder where they’ll go next. The album is undoubtedly good, with a few standout moments, but is it anything ground-breaking or new? No. There was some expectation that, given the band’s revised line up and Kenazi’s reinvention as a drag queen, this record would be electric and bold, full of fresh energy and searing wit. Unfortunately, though, Floatr’s grungy guitars and vocals are highly reminiscent of their last two albums. There seems to be a slight disconnect between the excitement and uniqueness of Happyness’s onstage personas and the music on this album. It almost feels as if the pair have found their niche and are content to stick with it.
Happyness are good at what they do and Floatr does prove this. They make music that effectively captures the depressiveness of 21st century life while simultaneously making fun of its ironies and intricacies. But this album also begs the question: how much further is that going to take them?
Floatr is released tomorrow, May 1st and is available to pre-order now.