A lot has happened since Happyness released their 2017 sophomore album, Write In. The band has parted ways with founding member, Benji Compston, and drummer Ash Kenazi has adopted a drag queen alter ego after coming out as gay. Their new record, Floatr, released on 1 May via Infinit Suds, is a genre-fluid exploration of selfhood, bound up in Happyness’ new identity as a co-fronted two-piece, with change and flux at its epicentre.
Discussing his new pink ballgown-wearing persona with DIY, Kenazi said: “The people that questioned it were the people who worked in the industry. And I think that’s one of the issues within the industry that I especially felt before I came out, that once you’re a band and you have an image, if that hits the spot then people are very keen to maintain that image and continue to project that image, which doesn’t allow artists to develop. I witnessed many bands suffer from being held in a certain image or a certain format.”
Recorded between a bedroom in South London and a kitchen in Bristol, Floatr refuses to be neatly labelled by anyone, a sense of shapeshifting immediately introduced with ‘title track’ where Jonny Allan sings: “Maybe it’d be much better to be irreversibly changing endlessly”.
Album standout ‘Anvil Bitch’ is a homage to changing tastes, an anthem for evolution. The track was self-described by the band as “a love song to what you were going for before you forgot what you were going for”. Speaking to Gigwise, the duo said the track is: “Like 500 Days of Summer, if Summer is the band you started in your early 20s and Autumn is a drag queen and a guy with a buzz cut. Visions change and that’s ok!”
Visions change, but the language used to describe Happyness’ music rarely does. Since their debut, critics have described the band’s debts to 80s and 90s alt-rock bands, with comparisons to Dinosaur Jr, Pavement and Sparklehorse peppering just about every review. These observations can still be made about a number of tracks on Floatr, including the title track, which eases the listener into the record with the familiar lo-fi sonic territory of 2015’s Weird Little Birthday Party, which was self-produced and released before the band had ever played a show. The grungy ‘Milk Float’ has a quintessentially 90s groove, with foreboding guitar licks, while January’s comeback single, ‘Vegetable’, takes Chumbawamba’s 1997 hit ‘Tubthumping’ and turns it on its head: “I get knocked up / but I get down again”.
They may have lost a band member, but with this latest album, Kenazi and Allan sound healthier, plumper, more self-assured than ever before. Floatr feels more experimental than their previous releases; it is not confined by genre or tone, the tracks flitting between the soft piano ballad ‘When I’m Far Away (From You)’ and the breathy, ASMR quality of ‘Bothsidesing’ to the slacker rock of ‘Undone’ and energised drums in ‘Ouch (yup)’. The instrumental ‘(I Kissed The Smile On Your Face)’ could have been lifted from a Bon Iver album, it’s a brief, soporific interlude before the triumphant closer ‘Seeing Eye Dog’. ‘What Isn’t Nuture?’, written as a response to Cass McCombs ‘What Isn’t Nature’, sounds like The Thrills’ ‘Old Friends, New Lovers’, and is a delightful concoction of double negatives: “Nothing shouldn’t hold me”. The band refuse to be pinned down, they are deliberately slippery.
As Happyness say themselves, visions change, and that’s OK. The vision we have right now is of a drag queen and a guy with a buzz cut. Even if you could put a label on that, why on earth would you want to?
Words by Beth Kirkbride