Review Summary: ..If binaural tones will not make you happier, you will most probably be by listening to the "Audio Guide": the second part of the two-disc concept feels more inspired, more experimental and definitely an improvement.
Premise: do you already know Jolly's work? If you are a newcomer, Jolly is a NYC band that decided, after a good debut with “Forty-Six Minutes, Twelve Seconds of Music“, to enter the magical wonderland of concept albums by releasing "The Audio Guide to Happiness". Concepts are in no way a novelty and neither is the purpose of the two-disc guide, which is to make people happier through music. What it is really original, though, is the concept at the base of the project itself: feeling happier not through music, but through science APPLIED to music, in the form of “binaural tones”.
To those who need a brief explanation, binaural tones are frequencies that, when heard through headphones, make the brain automatically perceive a third "phantom tone", resulting in an altered state of consciousness.. Or so the Jolly fellows say in the booklet. While all this might feel, at a first glance, scientifically questionable - although Jolly did actually partner with a scientific university to research on the subject - there is one thing we can definitely say: if binaural tones will not make you happier, you will most probably be by listening to the "Audio Guide".
Jolly wants you to listen through the whole four parts of the concept, a statement the band makes really clear by reminding you to do so in the first song, “Guidance Three”, and by inserting a free download voucher for the first part of the guide in every copy of part two. Considering you will also find the lyrics of the first cd in the booklet of the latter, you cannot but appreciate what these guys have done, practically giving you two albums at the price of one.
However, this is not a review of the whole project, therefore let us summarize in a sentence what part 1 was: an appealing experience, yet not without flaws, as the album had evident quality peaks that were not achieved in the whole LP. While the band could not evenly spread the awesomeness even in their new effort, the second part of the Audio Guide feels more inspired, more experimental and therefore an improvement.
The first part, or better, the third phase of the guide contains the only two hard-hitting songs of the disc: “Firewell” and the single “Dust Nation Bleak”. The technical prowess of the band is mostly shown in these two songs, characterized by the groovy basslines of Anthony Rondinone and the precise yet heavy drumming of Louis Abramson. The rumbling chorus of the latter, with a crushing double-bass pattern accompanying the vocal harmonies of main vocalist Anadale and Rondinone, is the perfect example of a band that knows how to hit harder and sound melodic in the process. Jolly explored various musical styles in their two previous efforts, continuing here their mixing of progressive rock with a whole range of other influences, such as a reggae breakdown contained in the heavy ballad “You Against the World” and electronic drum patterns in the bouncy “Aqualand and the Seven Suns”, although avoiding to sound as gimmicky as other bands that like to apply similar “pastiche” techniques in their songs.
Phase four, while being less direct than number three, is probably the true gem of the whole project: from the queer “Lucky”, with its high-spirited lyrics and joyful synths, through the soothing atmospheres of “As Heard on Tape” – containing a touching bagpipe solo - to the intricate structure of “Despite the Shell”, with its neo-prog influenced sound and a crescendo that brings to an energetic and powerful ending. This phase, named “achieving happiness”, fulfills its object with the last song, “The Grand Utopia”. It is hard to resist to the giggles of the background voices, accompanied by the cheerful keyboard sounds, a reminescence of phase two. Assuring that everyone will feel “happiness” by listening through the release is by no means the truth: the feelings that music makes us feel are indeed subjective; as far as I am concerned, the triumphing atmospheres of the ending, right after the soothing voice’s “breathe”, conquer me anytime. “Achieving happiness”, mission completed.