If you’re going to name your band Superhuman Happiness, it almost feels like you owe it to your listeners to have their expectations quashed. Having gifted yourself such a hyperbolic name, you'd better make darn well sure that you have a sound that matches up. One would expect a sound from them that matches the positivity level of Katrina & The Waves times five, Shonen Knife times ten, or The Smiths times 2319. So on their new album, Hands, do the New York septet live up to these expectations? In short, no, but that’s not to say that they don’t put up a good, hard, enjoyable fight whilst doing so.
The collective CV of Superhuman Happiness includes work with TV On The Radio, Phenomenal Handclap Band and Antibalas, so it's unsurprising that Hands incorporates portions of funk, indie-dance, punk and slivers of improvisational jazz to create a sound which is both incredibly familiar, yet simultaneously different from their fellow Brooklyn brethren. The album’s energy very rarely deviates from the upbeat, whether it’s on ‘Our Favourite Part’, a track which mashes manic hand claps with Go! Team-y group vocals, the piano-led funk strut of ‘Sentimental Pieces’, or on the 8 minute exercise in irresistible chirpiness, ‘See Me On My Way.’
Sometimes it can feel that when the band stumbles upon a good idea, they tend to get as much mileage out of it as possible. The undoubted highlight of the album is ‘Second Heart’, a song containing all the elements that make the band so enjoyable - a tight dance-inducing rhythm section, great brass lines, and lyrics that might not makes sense in isolation ( “There’s a second heart inside your heart”), but feels almost prophetic when married with the band’s eclectic sensibilities. Superhuman Happiness must have realised that they were on to a good thing with that song, as it has its own ambient introductory track (‘First Heart’), and a bass-led reprise closes the record. Likewise, some of the background group vocals on ‘Our Favourite Part’ crop up again on ‘I Can Hear You Calling’, only this time elevated to the song’s main chorus, or as close to a chorus as one comes to expect from the group.
Hands is an odd little beast. It is an album which sounds like lots of little bits of many artists you’ve heard a hundred times before, yet at the same time feels unique to Superhuman Happiness. Their music seems to have been created for a grand purpose, and yet at the same time showcases a certain amount of playful improvisation. Ultimately, what you get with Superhuman Happiness is an incredibly fun ride. Perhaps not as overwhelmingly joyous as their moniker might suggest, but fun nonetheless.
6Christopher McBride's Score