There’s an ability to find joy in almost anything, at least according to Parsonsfield on their recent release Happy Hour on the Floor. Six years after coming together as a five-piece band, Parsonsfield found themselves as a quartet. Instead of scrambling to find a replacement, the change-up informed a sonic reimagining. The third studio release is a considerable departure from their acclaimed rustic folk sound. Happy Hour on the Floor signals Parsonsfield’s indie-pop orientation as synthesizers and drum machines exhibit spirited song-crafting. Moreover, the album is cheery, if not downright jubilant in its messaging. Here Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.
Parsonsfield begin by critiquing the false-promise caused by conflating materialism with joy. “Paper Floor” firmly establishes the difference between what one needs as opposed to what one wants. The lyrics detail a couple who give themselves over to the trappings of wealth, including “two dozen oysters, Manhattan, Versailles”. Despite the glimmery appeal, superficiality is flimsy, a paper floor. For Parsonsfield, true value is derived from the costless: “All the critics’ stars can never shine like the night sky.” Finding joy in simplicity is reiterated in “River Town”. The track is categorically adorable, as it pairs bliss with the uncomplicated and depicts the coziness associated with familiarity. The imagery creates a vivid setting, “Sun breaking through the clouds / Our little river town / follow the water down”, rendering a gratifying escapist fantasy.
As made evident by “Paper Floor” and “River Town”, satisfaction is designed by the cosmos and environs. Yet it is “Emery” that best captures this ethos while revealing eclectic production choices. The track opens with a recording of the birds that gathered outside the studio. The happy chirps create a direct contrast to the wistful vocals. But the birds are meant to be taken seriously: the track isn’t about self-pity, it’s a reminder to generate gratitude and to let go of the obsession with material possession. As mentioned on Parsonsfield’s Facebook, “It’s a song about the necessities in life, which, for the most part, aren’t physical things at all.” Whereas the lyrics, “file me down like emery” are trite, and a few other tracks are forgettable, these are minor blips on an album bearing a valuable message.
Happy Hour on the Floor ends with a nod to all-consuming love, a powerful sentiment. Despite love’s existence, though, banality is unavoidable. But for Parsonsfield, it’s more problematic to become mired in the negativity. “Running River” avows to find rejuvenation despite the tedium stemming from “one hundred more miles to fame / In a half-broken machine / Chasing a dream.” Even when there’s no choice but to tend to duty, there is still a possibility to revel in euphoria. As heard in “Reykjavík Connection”, love surmounts physical distance even after “I leave you behind / When I’ve got to go raking in the nickels and dimes.” The closer “Sweet Dreams” revisits “Reykjavík Connection” indelible romanticism.
Considering the expectation that Parsonsfield is a folk band, the entire album is a musical risk. But it is this creativity that spurs their ingenuity as a collective. “Running River” is mesmerizing partially due to the use of a vocoder to build a sweeping harmony. Yet, remnants of Parsonsfield’s folk-roots sound prevail. The finger-picking in “Til I Die” is emblematic of Parsonsfield’s earlier work while the bells laid over Celtic strings bridge to their current creative space. Likewise, the ukulele interweaving with synths in “Now That You’re Gone” clearly demonstrates the group’s musical trajectory. The album is undeniably fun, often imploring its audience to lighten-up.
Happy Hour on the Floor is a call to cultivate joy and human connection, an apt reminder since the album drops when social distancing threatens this very idea. Parsonsfield are never smug or self-righteous, and throughout the music is celebratory, and the lyrics are thoughtful. Happy Hour on the Floor is a necessary reminder to find happiness while having a little fun.