In a recent review, I compared Moonbow’s first album The End of Time to a roller coaster. If that metaphor stands true, then the album new again by The Happy Maladies is the merry-go-round – and this ride is missing a gear or two; and the ride, and its operator, have a few screws loose.
The Happy Maladies are: Benjamin Thomas (guitar, banjo, vocals), Eddy Kwon (violin), Peter Gemus (bass) and Stephen Patota (guitar, mandolin, vocals). They started their collaboration in 2008 as a Django Reinhardt cover band but quickly chose to explore much deeper, more personal territory.
The album features only four tracks and all of the instruments used in the recording are acoustic --- but each song, at 5-6 minutes long, provides a powerful listening experience.
Starting us off is the title track and rightly so. It gracefully waltzes you into the environment with a simple guitar, mandolin and bass arrangement but even this is juxtaposed against odd and strangely surreal lyrics. However - like all of The Happy Maladies compositions – things quickly change into a tilt-shift mildly psychedelic exploration into something you can’t possibly see coming right at you.
The second track entitled “Habit-Forming Dental Surgery (rare candies)” features swirling cello and violin, punctuated by staccato guitar and banjo and ghostly vocal harmonies. The Django Reinhardt influence can be felt here very strongly, but so can other imprints. Imagine if the Goat Rodeo Sessions had teamed up with Lee Ranaldo [Sonic Youth].
The third track, “Well, Under” features vocal harmonies reminiscent of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young but even this loveliness is betrayed by a deeper, dyspeptic underbelly.
The album closes with the song “Top of the Muffin to You!” a gentle guitar-driven love song of sorts whose deceptive simplicity is contrasted expertly by other sonic explorations that could be a nod to The Beatles “White Album.”
If you’re looking for a little something with a down-home, folksy, bluegrass feel to it; something you can play for background music while you and your friends sit back and discuss the events of the day – this is not your CD. This album will surprise you, challenge you and make you uncomfortable. It is a recording that commands your attention, and may even smack you around a little – and, sometimes… just sometimes, that is exactly what we need.
The album new again by the Happy Maladies is available from Bandcamp.
The Happy Maladies will be playing at The Know Theatre on the Bioré Strip on Saturday, September 28th as part of the 2013 MidPoint Music Festival.