Faith and Industry
eing “all over the place” on an album is often overrated. Diversity is almost always a plus, but when an album jumps from one thing to another like a hyper-active five year old, it can be jarring and even frustrating. Take last year’s critically acclaimed Basement Jaxx album Kish Kash: The Jaxx couldn’t stay on one track long enough to let it infest in listeners’ heads like all the best Jaxx tracks tend to do, and consequently it was a lot less memorable than their previous albums.
Capitol K’s Happy Happy is all over the place. It’s the sound of that hyperactive five-year-old (in this case, K mastermind Kristian Craig Robinson) on a sugar rush—starting out energetic and focused, before bouncing off the walls and ultimately suffering one hell of a crash. Consequently, the first part of the album contains some of the most deliriously joyous and addictive Capitol K tunes to date, the second part is a real mess, and the final third is a serious downer.
Nobody does sticky-sweet pop goodness quite like Capitol K does. Their previous album, Island Row, contained several examples, the best of which was “Pillow,” possibly the most stunning pop song of this maturing decade. Despite Capitol K’s IDM heritage, these tracks are just as much Belle and Sebastian as Mouse on Mars, with Kristian’s frail, child-like voice and delicately strummed guitars gloriously complementing the chopped up beats and trademark electronic flourishes.
Happy Happy doesn’t have anything to quite match “Pillow,” but it comes disturbingly close with its first two tracks, the decidedly off-kilter but still toe-tapping “Love in Slow Motion,” and the absolutely gorgeous, misleadingly titled “Frankenstein”. These songs are positively alive, much like the best parts of Island Row, jolted with such unmistakable human feeling and emotion that they feel like living, breathing creations. All right, so maybe “Frankenstein” wasn’t so inappropriately titled after all.
But with third track “Gunfighter,” things start to get a little nutty. It starts out appealingly, much like the first two songs, with always-appropriate handclaps and delightful yelps. But the song switches paths halfway through, abandoning the hooks established at the beginning of the song for the rest of the song’s (too short) three-minute length.
From there, though, we get “Happy Happy” and “New York,” two songs which switch directions so many times and spend so little time establishing hooks that it gets damn near annoying to listen to. After getting a taste of the punch-drunk brilliance of the first couple tracks, it makes you just sort of want to grab Kristian by the shoulders and stop him from running around the studio so much, to calm him down.
But from there, the album takes a turn for the morose. “Random Lo” starts out with the guitar-led desperation and post-rock drum shuffles of a Mogwai tune. It’s a nice change of pace from the short-attention span of the last couple tracks, but it doesn’t last—the song basically loses interest in itself halfway through, and never builds up to the epic climax its beginning beg for. And from there, it’s nothing but down. The following tracks have so little blood in them that it almost makes you wish for the hyperactivity of the album’s first half. Before the album’s unremarkable closer, “Glorious”, only the bizarre synth-punk frenzy of album epic “Fools Arounds” makes much of a notable impression.
I don’t want to believe that Kristian Craig Robinson’s sole purpose when making Happy Happy was to frustrate the listener, but I don’t know what other conclusions to reach when listening to this album. To put such slices of pop perfection at the outset and to then proceed to beat the listener about the head with his zany musical antics and to then go and suck all the energy from the rest of the album—it’s damn near sadistic. If Kristian could just spend one album refraining from being “all over the place,” he could make one of the greatest laptop pop albums this world’s ever known, but in the meantime, he appears perfectly content with being the ADD-riddled youngster of the IDM world, and we’re just going to have to put up with him like that until someone says “no”.