Posted in Bands We've Chatted With

Happy Particles – Under Sleeping Waves – Review

Here in California it is still the night before Christmas and even though ‘Under Sleeping Waves’ is downloading  right now, the Happy Particles’ new record surely shouldn’t be counted as a 2011 release. I hereby petition to change the rules to reflect that anything released after December 25th counts toward the next year’s best of lists.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have watched ‘Inni’ just prior to sitting down to listen, but the opening bass lines of ‘Infinite Jet” quickly dispels that atmospheric comparison of the lead track ‘Aerials’.  I can’t shake the feeling that I already know this voice.  I can’t place it and quickly settle in. Toward the end of the song the ‘tape speed’ suddenly slows down. One can’t but help but wonder why. The third track ‘Slowness’ explains it somehow.  The established pace continues with the 4th cut. It is dreamy and delicate. A little trepidation does set in though. Surely this pace won’t be maintained throughout the record? So often I battle with what I want to happen on a record and what is actually unfolding before me. ‘Offline Contact’ doesn’t really stray from what has gone on before. At this point, it is pretty clear a second pass will be necessary before I can even form an objective opinion.

The lovely string arrangements on a ‘Reprise’ raise the anticipation. In a way it all hinges on the next song. This is a very quiet introspective record. There is an undeniable beauty here and ‘Come Home all Dead Ones’ typifies just how lovely the record is. Lyrically it has not engaged me emotionally yet. The unintended comparison to Sigur Ros might be more appropriate than originally thought. I’m most familiar with the next song ‘Empty Circle’. It is an excellent song. I’d go so far as describe it as the diamond in what has been a gradual and elaborate sonic setting that has been constructed for it so far. It has a hint of an edge and it is all too easy to imagine how it would close a live set. I clearly need to lose my conception of this record as just a series of songs.

There is something impenetrable about it on the first listen. ‘Classes in Silence’ another haunting instrumental piece provides the book end to ‘Reprise’. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much pressure put on a last song to inform my first opinion of a record over all. I know what I want to end the record; I really have no idea what it will be. Something hauntingly beautiful – ’10 Am Sky’ – fits the bill. It is shimmering and lovely end of a near perfect length. Then the short gap and subsequent instrumentation throws you off guard forcing you to reassess the ending again. The second listen from the top will have to wait until the morning.

Christmas morning, with the soft glow of the tablet monitor … I fully understand the first 2 and ½ songs. I know that “70 percent” of the record is ‘storyboarded’. The opening is executed brilliantly. It is as if the e ‘Infinite Jets’ slowdown toward the end of the song is somehow deliberately telling the listener that the aptly named follower ‘Slowness’ is the actual pace and heart of the album.  Knowing that vinyl was likely envisioned from the beginning, ‘Offline Contact’ is a satisfying end to the first side. ”Say one thing true – I dare you” – starting to be able to see past the beauty of the vocal and appreciate the lyrics. They are broad brush strokes that can be interpreted any number of ways; they are both lovely and evocative.

The decision to start side B with ‘Reprise’ is perfect; clearly another set-piece. I have a much firmer grasp on the scale and pace of the record. It is simultaneously epic and close and introspective at the same time. I can’t wait to pick up the vinyl version of this – the record begs to be played in that format.  By now it is clear how ‘Empty Circle’ shines as the centerpiece of the second movement. The static lead in and the end to the next instrumental piece is very effective as is the piece itself to continue the feel of ‘Reprise’ and set the stage for the finish and  ’10 AM Sky (Bleary)’ delivers; a haunting ending to a spectacularly beautiful record.

The 2 best things about bandcamp are the ability to listen to an entire track or album and the fact that the money goes directly to the artist. There really is no point to the preceding words. I am very reluctant to even post them. They represent my inarticulate attempt to capture my feelings of the listening to the record for the first time. Countless reviews will be more eloquent and they might even mention a Sigur Ros reference or three. It is hard to imagine that this won’t hold up as being one of the best of 2012, even if I’m the only blogger who acknowledges the wisdom of that convention.


Posted in Bands We've Chatted With

Happy Particles

The new album is available for download on bandcamp on Christmas Day. I know it is a present I’ll be opening first. Here are some answers from Steven.

‘I would think that you get a lot of ‘you remind me of comparisons. I honestly can’t think of who comes to mind. My first impulse was Pinback/Mercury Rev; but that misses by quite a lot. What have been some of the more interesting comparisons people have made?’

“we haven’t really been compared to anyone consistently, a lot of them will have a falsetto… Red House Painters sticks in my mind, probably only because I actually like them.”

The good folks at the Radar seem to regard you highly. Just over there listening to ‘Slowness’, I can see why. You sound so familiar yet new. Reading about your emphasis on string arrangements was interesting. My first reaction was that it sounded like inverted ‘post-rock’ where the soft gentle bits were switched with the loud bits to form a foundation. Does that even make any sense?’

“We are hugely appreciative of the support we have had from the radar folks and others like Ally McCrae, Vic Galloway and Hallina from Glasgow Podcart just to name a few.

Inverted post rock kind of makes sense I guess, I think post rock originally was just rock music with a few of the ingredients missing or replaced, now it’s pretty much just straight ahead guitar rock. There are a couple of songs on the album where the vocal is used very sparingly and the onus is on the instrumentation, so I suppose in that way it’s not traditional ‘rock band’ fare, although I’m not sure we have intentionally tried to invert the quiet – loud format, some of the songs on the album get quite banging.”

The Olympic Swimmers (in a previous post) cite you as a band to watch for. I’d be interested in your take on them. Personally, I think they are one of the more accomplished and exciting acts to emerge of late.

“My take on Olympic Swimmers, they are some of my favorite human beings, never mind one of my favorite bands. They remind me of early R.E.M. , i love the way Susies voice pretty much bullies all the wee boys lovely, pretty guitar parts. They also have one of the most primal rhythm sections of any scottish band i can think of. We pinched Graeme Smilie off them (when our bassist, Graeme Ronald, was over in the states) to play a wedding.There is a sickening mount of love between both bands, urgh.”

From way over here it seems that your first full length has come together fairly quickly. What has the experience been like? What prompted the decision to self-release? We are interested in any recording secrets or experiences you’d be willing to share. Was there an unexpected innovation that found its way onto the record?’

“It took ages for the album to come together in truth, I’m glad it did though as a few new tunes appeared throughout recording and we had time to do exactly what we wanted.

Recording the album was pretty miserable in some ways, we had no money, our friend Robin recorded it as a favour, we paid him peanuts, so we had to arrange recording days around his schedule. He did it as a fan of the music which is unbelievable. It took just over a week in days in total, but spread out over a year. Having a record in your head unfinished for that amount of time is psychologically unfavourable to say the least. Saying that, I miss going up to Dundee to hang out with Robin and the band in the studio, he did a better job on the record than we could have imagined in our heads at times. I think his results speak for themselves.

As for an unexpected innovation, not Per se, 70% of the time everything was quite well planned in advance before we recorded, like the record was a wee film with storyboards but the remainder of the time we were pretty much throwing things against the wall to see what stuck. For instance, a lot of James parts on ‘Slowness’ were improvised on the day we got a hold of the Rhodes piano, I love that part too.

We have decided to put it out ourselves for a few reasons, one is that the music industry has changed so drastically in the last few years, we really aren’t sure if we even need to be apart of it in a conventional sense. Another reason is that as I mentioned it took ages to finish the record, people have been asking when it’s coming out for the best part of the year, we kind of owe it to them. Also we don’t have a manager, label or promotion people, we have done everything ourselves to this point, why not just do the last bit too.

I’d like to say it was all inspired by our love of hardcore and of people like Ian Mackayes philosophy (which we do love and respect) but in truth it just felt natural to do it, if you don’t see your band as a commodity you can avoid a lot of trappings and other bullshit, there’s simply nothing to risk.”

I guess I don’t understand the mastering process very well. What did Iain Cook bring to the table?’

I don’t understand it myself to be perfectly honest, the only way I can explain it is that it brings clarity to the recording, also sometimes little frequencies or odd audio artifacts pop through that annoy you and once it’s mastered you can kind of listen in the safety of knowing that’s not going to happen. Iain Cook has made a reputation for himself by giving bands the opportunity of a professional and talented mastering service at an affordable price, the direct opposite of what the majority of mastering engineers do in my experience. I don’t know if he’s been inspired by people like Steve Albini or whoever but we dig his philosophy and it’s obviously symbiotic to making a record in a DIY manner.”

I’m glad to see you are thinking of re-releasing on vinyl. I’ve just ‘rediscovered’ LPs after being away from them for 20 years. What is the last record you picked up in that format?’

“An old Joseph-Maurice Ravel record I think. Not the Bolero, a more low key thing that sounds like an early Hitchcock soundtrack, ‘String Quartet in F major’. There is a track on the album which is a string reprise of the melody from ‘Infinite Jet’ which reminds me of the style of Ravel.”

Is there another Scottish band that you could point out to us as being worthy of being followed? This is a bit of challenge question in that we are fairly likely to say ‘well… yeah”.

“Yeah loads,. ‘Alec Cheer’ has made some of my most loved records of the past few years…

‘No comet’ are gorgeous…

I’m excited to hear the new ‘RM Hubbert’ record, that’s out on Chemikal Underground soon.

‘North American War’ blew me away recently…

there’s tons more. Oh yeah, Olympic Swimmers obviously.

I’m starting to sense that Christmas time in Scotland is a very musical event. Are you participating in any special shows?

“We have in the past but not this year. Everyone is pretty busy at the moment and we like to put some effort into things in the rare event that we do them.”

Speaking of Christmas, where will “Under Sleeping Waves” be available?’

 “We are going to release it on bandcamp on Christmas day, if we make any money from it we will put it towards a 500 run of Vinyl copies.”

Looks like I’ll be buying it twice yet again. Here is the link to pre-order yours.