This is our list of the happiest music we’ve reviewed in 2018. As Ren & Stimpy once put it, “Happy, happy, joy, joy!” But what type of music fits the definition? There’s a wide variety of happy music on the market, ranging from lightly uplifting to playful to caffeinated. We’ve simply selected the music that makes us smile while putting us in a good mood. Sometimes that mood starts as soon as we see the cover ~ check out Rachel Lundin’s cover art for rj lake’s Muddledash! as seen to the left. How can the heart resist such charm? Some of these albums are peaceful, others joyful; some are perfect for the car ride home, while others make us dance. We’re grateful to all of these artists and labels for offering an antidote to antipathy. And now, without further ado, A Closer Listen presents The Happiest Music of 2018!
Anders Lauge Meldgaard ~ At Synge Verden Ind I En Ny Og Mangefoldet Tid (År & Dag)
This mini-album looks like the sun and sounds like a sunshower. It’s a beautiful explosion of tempi that hides its experimental nature with an incredibly accessible sound. The ensemble is given a great deal of latitude, and their joy shines through their instruments. The translation is Singing The World Into A New And Manifold Time, and if this is what the future sounds like, we’re all in.
Dae Kim ~ Solace (mu-nest)
Solace is a preface to happiness, opening the doors of empathy and warmth. Listening to Dae Kim’s album makes one feel that everything is going to be okay. The vibe is comforting, the drums sunny as diamonds. The best times to listen: upon waking, or just before sleeping. “Cherish all the comforts in your life,” writes the artist. This album is now one of them.
Hoshiko Yamane ~ Threads (1631 Recordings)
Threads offers the quietest, but perhaps most durable variety of happiness: a muted, yet hard-won strength. This lovely album uses avian analogies: “Flutter,” “White Feathers,” “Fly Away.” But as it slowly works its way up to gentle joy, it lifts off into the “Genial Sunshine.” Reviewer James calls it “a ballet in mid-air.” While listening, one feels a slow tug at the heart: not a command to cheer up, but instead an invitation to take a walk in the crisp, fresh air.
Plïnkï Plønkï ~ Happy Birthday (piano and coffee records)
The first of two birthday-themed albums on our list comes from one of this year’s best new labels. This instantly endearing set is a collection of songs meant to be found during internet searches by the folks who bear their names. Imagine Léa discovering someone has written a song just for her! Listening is like crashing children’s birthday parties around the world, peering over children’s shoulders as they open their presents.
rj lake ~ Muddledash!
If you haven’t already guessed, Muddledash! is the score to a video game about a cartoon octopus’ birthday bash. Ringo Starr is referenced on “Octopus’ Garden Party,” Dr. Suess on “Noodle, Poodled, Bottled, Paddled.” The set is playful, but not silly; our reviewer David dubs it “dreamy hyperactivity.” But man, is it happy. This is something one might want played at one’s one birthday party, octopus or not. Kids will love it; adults will try to resist, but eventually give in.
Somni ~ Bloom (Friends of Friends)
I love this album; it’s the album I’ve played more than any other this year by far. I’ve taken it to the beach, to the mall, and on vacation; I’ve played it at work and at home. The nine tracks unfold as a mix, blending into each other like sunscreen on skin. Now that the cold weather is here, it offers a warm memory of summer, while providing the encouragement that spring will bloom again.
Third Coast Percussion ~ Paddle to the Sea (Cedille)
Look at this room! This is where one might love to go to work ~ especially if one were a member of a mallet orchestra. Third Coast Percussion’s album is a new score to an old film based on a children’s book, in which a boy’s carved figurine makes its way to the open ocean. The new music brings back the joy of childhood, while boasting adult maturity: nostalgia in full color, without the sepia tones.
Various Artists ~ HausMo Mixtape I (Hausu Mountain)
Constructed with synth, drums and love, 22 playful, upbeat tracks tumble through the speakers. The tempi are fast, the mood is happy and ladies and gentlemen, the dance floor is now open! Even the industrial piece (“All Deth Is U”) brings a smile to the face. Many of the cuts possess a retro vibe that may send the mind back to simpler times. This generous compilation makes a fine introduction to the Hausu Mountain roster; there’s plenty more where this came from.
The Vegetable Orchestra ~ Green Album (Transacoustic Research)
Even the thought of The Vegetable Orchestra makes me happy ~ grown-ups carving instruments out of vegetables, performing together and later smashing and/or eating the sources of their sound. Sure, we could do this at home, but would we be any good at it? Probably not. The band has founded a new form of culinary art, and they are worth every vegetable pun thrown their way. Lettuce surprise you.
Whale Fall ~ Sondersongs
Sondersongs is the rare album to see happiness as a political action (or perhaps reaction). As so many people have become disillusioned with the state of affairs, Whale Fall reminds them to have hope: to believe in each other and to realize the value of public diversity. All this is done without words (save for the liner notes); the message is conveyed through ebullient post-rock anthems, and bolstered by glockenspiel, piano, and oh, those horns!