The year was so rough that we feared there would be no happy music. Thankfully, we found that we had reviewed plenty in every genre! The very concept of happiness is difficult to define, and a wide definition includes inner peace, contentment and calm. We’ve burst right past that to smiling, laughing, playing and dancing. If you’re struggling to find happiness right now, you might not want to play all of these releases in a row; but if you’d like a little nudge to the bright side, these are the releases that tug at the corners of the mouth and produce sighs of relief. This is still a beautiful world; let’s celebrate it together!
And now, A Closer Listen presents The Happiest Music of 2020!
Bambi OFS ~ YAKKA (Subsist Records)
We launch our list with a short, ecstatic EP whose cover and timbre sum up the day we hope will soon arrive, when we will dance in the streets like Martha & the Vandellas. Ethnic polyrhythms, rapid tempos and a sense of emotional release are the hallmarks of this ebullient set.
Choi Joonyong ~ Washing Machine (AMPLIFY 2020)
(Obviously) recorded at home, Washing Machine is an amusing example of what musicians have been doing during the pandemic. Choi Joonyong was bored enough to turn his washing machine and ping-pong balls (a LOT of ping-pong balls) into a rotating band, and the results are akin to a hailstorm inside the house.
Gilroy Mere ~ Over the Tracks (Clay Pipe Music)
Nostalgia was in full bloom this year, and the warmth of the music is matched by the pleasure of the vintage video. A reminder of the simple pleasure of riding a train, Over the Tracks linked up with the full-length Adlestrop a bit further down the line.
Inventions ~ Continuous Portrait (Temporary Residence)
What happens when you pair an ambient artist with a post-rock artist? Electronic music! After recovering from this sonic surprise, listeners discovered one of the year’s most calming releases, filled with warm timbres and snippets of relatable dialogue. Choirs are never far from the mix, while mourning doves, children’s toys and shoppe door bells make welcome appearances. The album is a salve, a balm and an encouragement.
Matt Wilson Quartet ~ HUG! (Palmetto)
HUG! is a happy jazz set that brings a smile to the face and a tap to the toes. The simple video for the album’s catchiest song is a reminder of one of the things we miss the most.
Passepartout Duo ~ Vis-à-Vis
Piano and percussion join to create a positive sound on Vis-à-Vis, whose die-cut cover adds to the allure. Mallet music tends to yield a positive tone (have you ever heard a sad glockenspiel?), and the homemade instruments add a sense of DIY charm.
Shanghai Restoration Project ~ Brave New World Symphony
We’re obviously enamored with “Zoom Christmas,” but the whole album is a joy: an alternate mindset of those facing the pandemic in New York, forced to cultivate balcony gardens and to fantasize about a return to normalcy. The sanguine nature of the set is its prime appeal.
Simon Kirby, Tommy Perman and Rob St. John ~ Sing the Gloaming (Blackford Hill/Random Spectacular)
Now what starts with the letters gl? Cookie Monster might not have recorded this tribute to one’s favorite phonemes, but we suspect that he’d be proud, especially as the video for “Reconstructed Forms” looks like a cookie. Language play is more fun than we had dreamt.
Taw ~ Truce Terms (Bezirk Tapes)
There’s a time in every man’s life when he rediscovers toys. This may be when children are born, or when they move out of the house; it may be in the twilight years of a nursing home. For Simon Proffitt and Owen Martell, it’s now. Although they call this “serious play,” the artists are clearly having fun. What sonic wonders hide in our own cabinets and boxes, waiting to be loved?
VeldHans ~ The Becalming (Great Waters/One Acre Recordings)
The family in the video is happy; might we be happy too? Maybe by gathering around with a few loved ones and playing our favorite records. It’s not a concert or a festival, but it’s definitely love, and love will see us through ~ love for music, love for each other, love for what we still have, no matter what the circumstances may be.