The world had another hard year in 2022, and it’s sometimes hard to see hope on the horizon. As we fight our battles, we need the nourishment of happy music that is positive without being saccharine. One common theme below is that happiness can be hard-earned, but can also be found in the simple pleasures of life. We can still be surprised by joy.
Just as happiness comes in all forms, from peaceful contentment to joyful exuberance, the music we’ve chosen reflects this variety. Four of our seven main genres are represented, underlining the fact that no genre has a monopoly on joy; whatever your musical pleasure, we hope that you are buoyed by the happy music on this list.
Curha ~ 3 (Chant Records)
We begin with the list’s most tongue-in-cheek album, designed to bring a smile to the face. Clever titles are placed on playful pieces, from “G’rilla Beach” to “Badly Supervised Seance.” Aliens and bees hover as the synthesizer flirts with Ed Wood themes. Ice cubes land in glasses; the TV spouts incidental music. And all we want to do is dance.
Glenn Jones ~ Vade Mecum (Thrill Jockey)
The Latin phrase means “Go With Me,” and the album is an invitation to be lost in reverie, a happy daydream of the past or an imagined future. The warmth of Jones’ fingerstyle guitar is enhanced by guest appearances of the banjo and violin. If a bear in a troubadour costume can learn to play the guitar, we cannot help but be cheered; truly, anything is possible.
Gold Panda ~ The Work (City Slang)
This music sounds liberated and free, belying the fact that the artist went through a lot of hard work to get to this point. The end result demonstrates that it can be done. Our experiences don’t need to define us; we can claw our way to happiness, and celebrate in the light of the sun. While listening, one hears only the joy of being alive.
The Hardy Tree ~ Common Grounds (Clay Pipe Music)
The common ground is not only a place, but a feeling. As Frances Hardy took her daily walks during the pandemic, she found others in the same boat; together yet apart, they traversed the streets walked by generations before. In this was found grounding and grace, a connection to people and land. The music reflects this inner and outer calm.
Judd Greenstein/yMusic ~ Together (New Amsterdam)
Our sense of time is all over the map, so it’s easy to forget that not too long ago, we were coming out of isolation, reconnecting with each other, rediscovering the pleasure of being together. This single-track release and video highlight both the reluctance and the relief. Now there is dancing; joy has returned.
Max Richter ~ The New Four Seasons (Deutsche Grammophon)
Some might call this set Recomposed Recomposed, but this Vivaldi is different from that Vivaldi: younger, livelier, more colorful. The music is ebullient, a soundtrack to every season. Even the Moog sounds brilliant when married to the orchestra. This was a risk that paid off, a doorway between the old and the new.
Modus ~ O Mira Novitas (Clay Pipe Music)
The second of two Clay Pipe releases on our list, this charming CD3″ kicked off the label’s mini-CD series, offering confections for the heart and mind. The set sounds alternatively like an arcade, a carnival, a march and a dance. International influences make the music seem to come from no place and all places; as we wrote in our review, it’s an “instant mood lifter.”
Orange Crate Art ~ Contemporary Guitar Music (Somewherecold)
As Jeremy noted in his review, this doesn’t sound exactly like guitar music; and it isn’t restricted to a single genre. In these grooves, one will find a bit of shoegaze, some ambient, a healthy serving of beats and a plethora of psychedelica. The album IS a whole lot of fun, drugs or no drugs, imitating the feel of a happy high with no inherent risk.
Sunhaus ~ Formations (Mystery Circles)
This partially generative music is a reminder of life’s little pleasures and happy accidents. As we wrote in our review, it sounds like “opening the blinds in the morning, watching the snow fall, and seeing sunlight glittering off the dew.” The artist’s handmade synthesizers are so warm they exude an organic impression: a twinkle, a spark, a holy drift.
zmi ~ Piano Diary (Nature Bliss)
ACL‘s Garreth Brooke calls Piano Diary “a pure expression of the joy of music making … an album of innocence, wonder and hope.” The music is gentle, intimate, redolent of childhood. The tracks do sound just like diary entries. On each of 16 days, zmi found something ordinary to celebrate in life, and translated gratitude into music, creating the rare diary one is invited to read.