You like Pavement? I like Pavement. They’re a damn good band. You know who really likes Pavement? The three dudes who make up the British slacker indie trio Happyness. They like Pavement so much that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the threesome — singer-guitarist Benji Compston, bassist Jonny Allan, and drummer Ash Cooper — have been kept in a state of suspended animation since 1997, with Brighten the Corners playing on a nonstop loop, subliminally etching itself into their young, pliable brains, and that they were only recently reanimated before setting to work on their debut, Weird Little Birthday. So yeah, they sound a lot like Pavement, is what I’m trying to say.
Weird Little Birthday was originally released in 2014 in the UK and it’s getting a U.S. vinyl/CD 2.0 release by Bar/None, gussied up with a few bonus tracks that originally appeared on an EP and new track from 2015. The additional songs help introduce the band to American audiences, clear the decks and help balance out a track sequencing/pacing issue that nearly sank the original album proper. Happyness’ main plan is simple: have Compston whisper some clever/cynical lyrics over lo-fi strumming, toss out a few gentle hooks, and keep it chill/weird, man, which is to say Pavement after a Fall-ectomy. 1990s Amerindie has its adherents and modern-day practitioners (Yuck, California X), and Happyness fit right in with that crew.
Opener “Baby Jesus (Jelly Boy)” is about a kid unwilling to have his birthday thunder stolen by a certain Jewish carpenter, while “Naked Patients” offers this keen observation about failing health: “There’s something so funny about a sick body and the thing that it does that it shouldn’t do.” A few more-urgent tunes on side A — “Great Minds Think Alike, All Brains Taste the Same”, “Refrigerate Her” and “Anything I Do Is All Right” — suggest a facility with a quicker pace that they would do well to investigate further, but any momentum is abandoned by the nine-minute title track, which takes three minutes before a single syllable is uttered (over an admittedly charming little circular riff), at which point Compston is still in no rush to get to the crux of the song’s biscuit. He and his “weird little girlfriend” don’t really get along… and it’s all delivered in a conspiratorial whisper. As album centerpieces go, it feels like a miscalculation.
Unfortunately, too much of side B hews to the skeletal music/whispered vox formula. Had the album ended as it originally did with “Monkey in the City”, the whole band and LP ran the risk of disappearing into the aether. With the U.S. edition, however, more is more, and the additional tracks find the band trading in their laconic (lethargic?) cool for something more spry and urgent. “You Come to Kill Me?” appeared on October 2014’s Anything I Do Is All Right EP, and its see-saw keyboards and fuzzed-out guitar are a strong fit for the band. Even better is the appropriately-titled “A Whole New Shape”, making its LP debut as the closer here, and hopefully a road map for a way forward.
There’s no denying that Happyness is indeed a weird little band, and in today’s anodyne rock scene, they’re a welcome participant. With some U.S. dates including SXSW and some new songs that showcase a sprightlier band, here’s hoping these guys can pick themselves up off the Pavement.