Happy website
"Sincerely, Without Wax"
(doubleplusgood; 2004)

Happy-Sincerely, Without Wax

I discovered the Oshkosh, Wisc. band H. Chinaski just after the band broke up, but the one full-length release and the stellar EP the band left behind have been consistent favorites. So I was extremely excited to hear that the unique talents of H. Chinaski frontman Andrew Johnson would be carried over to this new trio, Happy. (And surely someone, somewhere would have thought to use the word 'Happy' as a band name before?)

Johnson has a unique voice: rather atonal, shouted at times like his throat is raw. But it works in his post-hardcore medium. While his voice is the most immediately obvious aspect of Happy, it's by no means the main feature Johnson carried over. His powerful, dynamic guitar riffs - challenging tunings and thick, dynamic pace - are even better developed on Sincerely, Without Wax, while this counterparts on bass and drums more than contribute. The end result is a post-hardcore, slightly mathy, extremely interesting album that almost demands repeated listens.

Just listen to that staccato riff that opens the first track, "Cats," at a high pace. That and the way the almost tangible bass lines and guitar mix on this track should be enough to sell the curious fan right there. On "Palm the Good Book," Johnson brings back his feeling of ennui from H. Chinaski albums, as he sings, "Well this place blows." And oddly enough, his voice is even tuneful at times here. Things slow down nicely at the mid-point of "Dogs of the Itarod," letting the drummer shine, although the discordant guitar riff is distracting here. By contrast, "Another D Down" is more melodic, and the low-end vibe of "Simple Procedures" feels like a slick, toned-down Fugazi, making it easily one of my favorites here. (It should be noted that this track is most similar to H. Chinaski, which may be why I like it so much.) Another stellar track, "Certain Flies are Laughing" has the coolest melodic intro and mid-tempo pace, with a different feel to production that gives the vocals a more unique flare.

It should be noted that not all of Happy's songs are easy to listen to. The odd mix of propulsive riffs and time signatures, as well as Johnson's voice, can make the more punk-influenced songs like the discordant "The Spoiler" and the edgy "The Very First Protein" a bit chaotic, but I'm quite sure that's intentional. The odd pace - almost bouncy, like country-punk - of "Easier in Art" is an odd approach, mixing strangely with Johnson's shouted vocals.

Happy doesn't quite hit me the way H. Chinaski did, but there's no denying that Sincerely, Without Wax is an accomplished debut album. I hope this trio stays around long enough to follow the album up with even stronger efforts that continue to show Johnson's unique stature as a post-hardcore frontman. -Jeff Marsh

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