After a year such as this, we could all use some happy music. But we don’t want silly music; we just want our moods to be lifted so that we can begin to see the good in the world again. These ten picks are designed to do just that. From the sounds of morning birds to a pianist in his own living room, from a leaf blower to a utensil-inspired triptych, these recordings bring a smile to the face and lift the heart toward the sun. We’re grateful for such music, which resists the urge to be pessimistic and instead embraces the phrase, life is good. And now A Closer Listen presents The Happiest Music of the Year!
Flavien Gillié ~ Matagne-la-Grande (Self-Released)
If only we could wake up to sounds such as these every day! The birds sing, the church bell tolls, and all is right in the world. This field recording is large of heart and gorgeous in its soul, a perfect slice of morning sound that makes one want to milk cows and check the coops for eggs ~ even if one lives in the suburbs. The mood is even stronger than the sense of place; this is Belgium, but we wish it could be here, or that we could be there.
Jean-Michel Blais ~ II (Arts & Crafts)
This endearing piano album stands out in a very crowded field. Montreal’s Jean-Michel Blais offers songs that sound like little homecomings, and the sound of children playing (we suspect his own) graces the album with a sense of personal warmth. Blais loves making music, and his enthusiasm is contagious. Whenever the ivory notes quicken, one wants to throw the doors open, run into the big wide world, and play.
Lapsihymy ~ Dreams Take Over Everything (Self-Released)
Teenaged Finnish sensation Lapsihymy burst onto the scene in a big way in 2016 with a trio of EPs and an autumn album. His sound is a mixture of ambience, beats and sampled, stuttered female vocals, a formula that worked for Odesza but that in his hands sounds even fresher. These upbeat, positive tunes are perfect for summer but suitable for winter dreamers as well.
Various Artists ~ Bleeps, Beats & Bass – 10 Years of Basserk Records (Basserk)
Basserk Records offers a flashback to the old school world of popular trance (Jean-Michel Jarre, Sash!, DJ Quicksilver), and when nostalgia meets happiness, everybody wins. The endearing two-tone videos only add to the appeal. Happy anniversary to Basserk, and many more!
Dalot ~ Mutogibito (n5MD)
Dalot’s music room doubles as a playroom; on Mutogibito, toys become instruments and instruments become toys. She’s recorded an album as a mom that’s bound to bring smiles to the faces of mothers and children alike. Simultaneously playful and mature, Mutogibito demonstrates that a person can grow up and still retain the wondrous heart of a child.
Fragments ~ Imaginary Seas (Patchrock)
If you love positive post-rock, look no further. France’s Fragments captures the mountaintop feeling that is so often associated with post-rock, but these days so seldom found. With regal highs and gentle lows, bursts of crescendo and a secret horn, Imaginary Seas takes the listener to a higher emotional level, reflecting the origins of its composition.
Le Gros Ballon ~ Cinefoumatic (Self-Released)
Two people playing 27 instruments seems like quite a task, but this Milan duo is up for the challenge. On Cinefoumatic, they make it seem easy. This is post-rock that one can dance to: the glockenspiels provide the invitation, but the grooves fill the dance floor. Even the track titles are happy: “Happy Sunshine Voilà”, “Christmas in June”. The album came out in April, but it still makes us move.
Pigeon Laundry ~ S/T (Romero)
That leaf blower track! Yes, Australia’s Pigeon Laundry might be considered a bit of a novelty, but their serious presentation says otherwise. The band is a little bit mariachi, a little bit siesta, a little bit surf, and its flavors blend like a smoothie. Their videos are as low-budget as all get-out; call them the little band that could.
Happy Place ~ Northfield (Exit Stencil)
Yes, we know a name like Happy Place provides an inside track to inclusion on this list, but that’s not why the band chose it. They want to take us to our own happy place, and their freestyle approach to jamming may inspire listeners to pick up their own utensils and give it a go. Will Mason and company are having a blast. Double drummers and cowbell are included at no extra charge.
Stoka Ensemble ~ xx0E5/-1|1|—q% (Self-Released)
The EP may boast the least memorable title of the year, but these horn-drenched, drum-stuttered jams will not soon be forgotten. Hailing from The Hague, this sextet offers toe-tapping grooves with a touch of the avant garde. They make us move and think at the same time, setting up walls of abstraction then gleefully knocking them down.