Review Summary: An uncompromisingly experimental 8-bit extravaganza that blends the most unlikely elements to create something that transcends its own insanity.
Matt (the c@) Morden is quite an interesting fellow. As the sole member of the chaotic and often downright schizophrenic Bubblegum Octopus, you would probably expect Matt to personify his music to at least some degree. Yet watching Matt in an interview presents a disconnect between the creative force and his spastic product. He sits in his purple room adorned in neon-colored clothes and surrounded by hordes of stuffed Pokémon, Nintendo hallmarks, and plenty of pink (presumably gummy) octopi. And against this vibrant backdrop that reinforced all of my preconceived notions about Matt, he shattered those notions with a calm explanation of his struggles with self-image and anxiety (all while absently stroking his beloved cat). At first these words seemed so contradictory amidst the numerous scenes that depict him performing in front of twelve of his most loyal fans in what looks like someone’s living room, belting out his lyrics and shaking his mop without a second thought. Clearly there's more to Matt than meets the eye, and his music follows suit.
is Matt's follow-up to his first album, The Album Formerly Known as "8-Legged Dance Moves"
, which was preceded by an unofficial compilation of demo tracks that make up the album presently known as 8-Legged Dance Moves
. It's all very confusing. Anyway, the core sound on Bad Happy
is largely the same as it was on the aforementioned albums. Like the album title, the music features many contradictory elements that include screamed/growled vocals paired with high-pitched falsetto, pummeling blast beats alongside contemplative ambience, and frantic, disjointed rhythms neighboring groovy, melodic dance tunes. Adding to the insanity is the fact that the album is largely performed within the 8-bit medium, giving the whole thing a retro, arcade aesthetic. The quality of the music on display here is truly fantastic. Matt has an uncanny ability of creating tons of memorable 8-bit melodies that all sound completely unique and fresh within the context of the album. From the instantly catchy rhythm and melody of "Loud Noise in My Room," to the high-speed, industrial theme of "Beautiful Little Towne," to the bubbly, carefree tune that enters shortly after the opening of "We ARE Sick" (which incidentally evokes images of Pokémon frolicking in a daisy-spotted meadow), the album consistently provides moments that burn themselves into your brain. This supports the sporadic nature of the music because, even though things are constantly changing and alternating between many different moods and styles, all of them provide something worth hearing and contribute to the memorability of the album.
There are also some notable improvements over the first album, one major example of which is the production. Bad Happy
is much more layered and effects-laden than The Album Formerly Known as "8-Legged Dance Moves"
and, frankly, it just sounds a lot better. The dichotomy between the loud, heavy sections and the soft, melodic sections is so much more poignant here than on his last album because of this. On his first album, everything sounds about the same in terms of depth and intensity. The heavy sections don't so much forcefully shock you out of the melodic, bubbly sections as they just play alongside them. On Bad Happy
, however, the heaviness often erupts in a fury that dwarfs everything else around it. "Shovel Piledriver" unleashes a power unlike anything Matt has previously created and carries a sense of weight and intensity that just didn't totally translate in his first effort. This song also highlights another extreme improvement: the vocals. Perhaps the most polarizing thing about Bubblegum Octopus is the very high-pitched falsetto vocals matched with the guttural growls and shrill screams that would be right at home on a death or black metal album. Matt really sells this combination better than he did the first time around. The vocals on his first album are novel due to their originality, but they lack a certain amount of polish and often times come off as a bit goofy or ridiculous. Bad Happy
shows that Matt's delivery has vastly improved and his vocal variety has increased tenfold. His growls are more devastating, his falsetto is refined, and he even provides plenty of unexpected turns, including a percussive vocal section on "Tibulidentata" that would make Mike Patton himself crack a smile.
What ultimately makes Bad Happy
a great album though isn't the production, the genre mashing, or the vocal acrobatics. What makes it great is that, just like its creator, there is more to it than meets the eye. Beneath the flowers, bubbles, twinkling stars and rainbows that adorn its cover lays a solemn, pensive undertone. There is a distinct sense of contemplation and longing that reappears throughout the album and often acts as a bridge been the thunderous chaos of the heavy sections and the danceable catchiness of the melodic sections. These moments provide a catharsis where the listener can step back from everything that is going on and get a sense of what Matt is really trying to say with his music. Slightly after a minute into "Goodbye Light (God's Fake Laser)", the music abruptly transitions into a shimmering, astral clearing where a lonely synth note carves a beautifully mournful path. There is an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and longing here, as if Matt wishes he could somehow find a place where his friendly melodies could coexist peacefully with his harsh outbursts, or perhaps, his fond memories of childhood could be rekindled within his anxious and stressful adult reality.
This is a sentiment that I think everyone can relate to and gives Bad Happy
substance that reaches much deeper than the 8-bit novelty and the experimental genre mashing. Sure, the album is entertaining as hell with its frantic pace, rapid stylistic transitions, loads of memorable melodies, and uncompromising experimentalism. But the glimmers of contemplation and reflection that are interspersed amongst the madness are what give the album its heart and soul that put everything into perspective. They're what make it relatable.