Review Summary: Happiness is love!
As a prominent member of both indie giants Broken Social Scene and post-rock champions Do Make Say Think, Charles Spearin is making a heck of a lot of good music. His talents as a musician allow him to mold different genres into each other with an easy groove. So when I found out about he was crafting a solo project called The Happiness Project
I was immediately intrigued. The premise had Spearin roaming his street and recording interviews with his neighbours. Spearin would then listen to the recordings and pick apart the natural melodic tones of the spoken passages. From there he manipulated the tapes and composed the music that surrounded these melodies. This certainly isn’t the first time such an idea has been attempted, however it is fresh enough to feel original. The other aspect that differs this work from other artists who attempted a similar project, is how organic the pieces feel and simply how well crafted the entire album is. The pieces match the title as The Happiness Project
is really quite a joyous experience.
The music has two main relations to the spoken word recordings. The first is to mimic the melodies, paralleling and counterpointing them. Album opener “Mrs. Morris” best portrays this as the Carribean woman talks about how “happiness is love” while an avant-garde saxophone runs along with each syllables tonal shift. When Spearin is heard asking questions, his voice is matched in the same way with a double bass, counterpointing the saxophone. It’s an interesting exercise, but nothing compared to the more complex relationship of interpreting what the interviewees are talking about
into musical form. “Vanessa”, a woman born deaf, explains her childhood and what she lost and gained from the disability. A short musical interlude produces a sorrowful, yet uplifting violin and horn motif before the interview continues and the woman begins to explain how she had an operation that allowed her to hear. The tape loops the phrase “All of a sudden I felt my body moving with something” creating an interesting, natural 7/4 meter. With a pulsating piano base; slide guitar, violin and trumpet interplay and interpret the sensation that the woman feels as she hears for the first time. Overtop of it all, high register piano repeats the vocal melody. The moment never bursts open, but remains introspective as this interprets a very personal moment.
From this template, Spearin crafts some incredible compositions. Album highlight, “Vittoria”, starts as a traditional big-band jazz piece, complete with a nifty alto and soprano saxophone solo. The song then shifts in its final third into a surf-rock glide that will have your feet tapping. The epic sprawl of the reverb laden “Mr. Gowrie” sounds like what Godspeed or Sigur Ros could do if they learned to lighten up a bit. Elsewhere, “Marissa” provides an interesting classical guitar motif and “Ondine” takes a similar approach as “Mrs. Morris” but fleshes out the avant-garde runs with horns, guitars and a violin. The whole album seems to flow from the energetic to the pastoral. In the first we half we get the bouncy ragtime piano of “Anna” and in the second half we have the cerebral “Mr. Gowrie”. Album closer “Mrs. Morris (Reprise)” rounds out the trip with a mix of both styles. The song takes the original “Mrs. Morris” and backs it with pretty electric guitar plucking. Think, Explosions in the Sky covering Antony Braxton.
All of these references to post-rock bands might have you feeling that this is similar to them, but Charles Spearin’s The Happiness Project
is an entirely different beast. At times it resembles indie, sometimes it’s straight up jazz, and yes other times it does veer into the post-rock echelon. However, to describe it within a certain genre would be to disrespect the creativity and originality that flows from every second of this album. As the name suggests, this album is just a joyous ball of happiness that is a celebration of life. In a time where we are bombarded with the problems of the world, this album suggests, in the words of “Marisa”, “if we just look out for each other” things would be better off. Instead of sound tracking an apocalypse or a pretentious dream or whatever; Charles Spearin just wants to make music that is fun and celebratory, and he does a damn fine job of it. After all, “happiness is love”.