Review Summary: Happy Body Slow Brain offer a very strong debut with a wide variety of instrumentation and mature songwriting.
Every once in a while, I’ll download an album and know that it is going to be great after hearing only the first fifteen or twenty seconds of the opening track. There just isn’t enough time to listen to all the music that’s out there these days and that definitely makes those albums that really catch your attention stand out. This was definitely the case with Dreams of Water, the debut album by Happy Body Slow Brain, based out of San Jose, CA and NYC. The opening track, “Everything You Know” did the trick with a catchy keyboard arpeggio and snyth chord combo followed by a groovy drumbeat with lots of hi-hat. At the thirty-five second mark, I was hooked.
Much of the credit for the album’s superb instrumentation goes to vocalist, guitarist, and keyboardist Matthew Fazzi (read:Facing New York, read:another band I’ll deal with later), but the album’s key strength isn’t the high of level of musicianship. It’s one thing to play an instrument well, and another to write good songs. The songs are written so that the instruments are allowed to act as voices throughout the album, expressing feeling and emotion that is hard to find in music nowadays. A lot of the guitar riffs sound like they could have been played on piano and vice-versa, which creates a sense of symmetry. On “Never Loved,” the album’s third track, a simple but catchy riff with hammer-ons and pull-offs doubles over resonating piano chords. “You Won’t If You Don’t Want” has a soothing two-minute interlude where only piano is heard. The use of instrumentation is not only very good, it is used in a way that is somehow dynamic and intriguing. “The Flight” offers a guitar interlude that isn’t too unlike the piano in the ending of “You Won’t…” Vocals aren’t the only voices on this album, the other instruments sing their own lyrics in the form of notes.
Fazzi shares his vocal, string and key duties on most songs with Isaac Bolivar, who provides warm harmonies and shimmering guitar tones consistently in every song. The dynamic capability of the band’s rhythm section (Jason Holthouser on bass and Eduardo Torres on drums) is probably best displayed in the album’s closing track, “The Bridge”. The first half of the song is played at a fast, urgent pace before breaking off into a slow, dreamy closing sequence with bright guitars tones and an atmospheric snyth. This goes on for a few minutes before a classical piano segment ends the album. However, the meaning behind the song structure was unclear to me until Fazzi explained the lyrics at one of their shows. The song shares its name with a documentary of the same name that focuses on suicides committed at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The energy and urgency from the first two minutes must symbolize the last minutes of a person’s life and the slow peace that follows must be death.
Dreams of Water is a well-written album with many high points and few flaws. Like most albums, it doesn’t come without a little filler in the middle section. However, it isn’t the filler that bands had no business writing and you simply skip over, it’s worth a listen at the very least. The album has excellent instrumentation but even better songwriting that allows for a successful blending of R&B drums and guitar with keys and synths that results in an energetic, poppy album that both Minus the Bear and Portugal the Man. probably enjoy thoroughly.
Last but not least, and only because it needs to be said:
Happy Body happens to be the youngest member of a “family” of bands started by former members of another band. (read:Taking Back Sunday). This is a family that consists of Straylight Run and The Color Fred, among others. But be warned, if you happen to be one of the many who didn’t care for TBS’s New Again album (which was made with HBSB’s Matt Fazzi) Dreams of Water is nothing at all like New Again. But much more importantly, Fazzi wasn’t meant to be writing songs with Taking Back Sunday, he has reached his full potential with Happy Body Slow Brain.