South London trio Happyness release their sophomore record Write In, to the anticipation of those around for Weird Little Birthday back in 2014. The band’s debut ended up being both a cult hit and hailed by critics as one of the albums of that year, rendering the wait for its follow up all the more charged. Borrowing heavily from American alternative college rock styles, the band appear to have grown up somewhat on Write In, retaining the fun and fuzzy tones of earlier work, with the addition of occasional melancholy and gloom.
Happyness are not a group who take themselves too seriously. In an interview with Spindle back in 2014, they explain away the inspiration for their band name as being ‘…because we like Happy Meals’, hardly an existential deconstruction of language. Rather, three lads and their love for fast food children’s meals. It’s exactly this bold self-deprecation that makes their sound so utterly charming, along with the self-production of this record in their own Jelly Boy Studios, once sitting atop an old abandoned bookshop, now turned to rubble.
Though a more serious endeavor than their debut, Write In retains the tongue in cheek tone of Birthday — the vocal call and response in the verses of ‘Through Windows’ comes to mind — self aware and nodding to a style of vocal play pioneered in surf rock and pop genres by heavyweight acts like The Beach Boys, and adapted by the likes of Eels. It’s easy going guitar music, sure, but it toddles along with grace and poise.
Lead single ‘Falling Down’ is mixture of fuzz guitars, a clean descending melodic line, and lyrics both downtrodden and wistful. As an opener, it works brilliantly here, and serves to augur themes revisited later on the record. The melody, for instance, teases the use of ascending and descending scales in ‘Upturned Style Raids’, while the despondent tone is restored at moments during ‘Victor Lazarro’s Heart’ and ‘Through Windows’. It is this tone that points to a sense of growth here. Though playful, tongue in cheek lyrics were the focus of the debut, it’s the moments of sonically upbeat but lyrically somber dejection which stand out this time around. ‘Anna, Lisa Calls’ bumbles along with all the bom bom bom’s expected from a melancholic slacker rock track, but the tonal divergence in the repetition of “my baby / hardly ever comes around” points to a newfound vulnerability not previously explored.
Though playfully alluding to various genres — some quintessentially American, others harking back to the heyday of British guitar music — Happyness never falter in sounding exactly like themselves. Strange praise for a group who seem to, at their core, reject the pigeonholing effects of British guitar genres, and opt to look elsewhere for influence, but it makes sense that this collage of styles ends up sounding totally unique and never reductive. The band have built upon the aspects of Birthday which made it such an impressive debut — humorous winks, brushed percussion, fuzzy yet tremendously pretty melodies — and along with the addition of some gorgeously downbeat moments (closer ‘Tunnel Vision On Your Part’ really stands out here). Happyness have developed a unique perspective in an increasingly globalised music market. Individual and honed, Write In is everything you want from a second record, and more besides.