Circa Waves – Sad Happy (Album Review)

Another group of lads from Liverpool made legendary history, but the Indie Rockers in Circa Waves are certainly doing their very best to maintain their hometown’s legacy. Formed in the aforementioned city in 2013, within two years they were delivering their debut disc, Young Chasers. Prolific artists, the quartet would go on to release two more full-lengths—2017’s Different Creatures and 2019’s What’s It Like Over There?—over the next four years. Sharing stages with the likes of Interpol, Royal Blood, The 1975, and The Libertines, Circa Waves have continued to grow their fan base as they inch up on their first decade together.

Refusing to slow down, in January 2020, the quartet—Vocalist/Guitarist Kieran Shudall, Guitarist Joe Falconer, Bassist Sam Rourke, and Drummer Colin Jones—issued the first portion of their upcoming full-length under the guise of the Happy EP. Rounding out what Happy started, they deliver their newest child, the full-length Sad Happy, on Friday, March 13, 2020, via Prolifica.

Produced by Shudall, the 14-song LP revels in its titular dichotomy as the band weave tales of addictive love, longing for the lost, and consider a move to California. The tales of Sad Happy begin with the upbeat bop of radio-ready “Jacqueline” before Falconer’s guitar gets grittier and Rourke’s bass thickens for “Be Your Drug,” a dose of sonic nostalgia. Next, there’s a delicate intimacy to the opening lines of “Move To San Francisco,” one that eventually sees the entire quartet kicking in to weave a sunny thought of packing up and heading to the Bay. Because that’s “where the happy people go.

Echoing the muddier sounds of “Be Your Drug,” and continuing its illicit theme, “Wasted On You” over-indulges in a special someone. Meanwhile, the somber “The Things We Knew Last Night” pairs Shudall’s vocals with acoustic guitar to anchor a more intimate moment. At this point, the album’s pattern becomes blatantly obvious with the rocking confessions baked into the core of “Call Your Name” predictably followed by the sweeping orchestration of “Love You More.” In this particular instance, the latter track creates a grand moment, a filmic feel to its story of unbalanced love.

The titular “Sad Happy,” and its thematic dichotomy that is apropos of the entire collection, embraces its juxtaposition to provide infectious, danceable melancholia with twinkling synthwork. An obvious choice for a single/video, this is the perfect representation of the album to which it lends its name. Next, the lulling beat of “Wake Up Call” leads into the intimate reflections of “Sympathy.” With acoustic guitar and Shudall’s soaring vocals paired together, the song balances its predecessor perfectly.

Upbeat piano and whistling provide an ironic giddiness to “Battered & Bruised,” an addictive black and blue heart, before they again dip into mellower, more languid pacing with “Hope There’s A Heaven.” Here, heavy atmospheric synths create a veil over the track’s poignant lyrics as the band display their range. In fact, this stand-out offering shows the abilities of Circa Waves when they fire on all cylinders, sonically, lyrically, and with Shudall challenging himself to reach new heights, vocally.

It’s a tough moment to follow, but they do so flawlessly with “Train To Lime Street.” Placing its focus on setting a mood, at just under two minutes, the gorgeously emotive instrumental is a ride worth taking, one that segues beautifully into “Birthday Cake.” Pairing the enveloping warmth of the sun’s summer caresses with a graceful musical performance, Circa Waves take all that has come before to mold a conclusion that provides a truly powerful moment that is suitably happy-sad.

With Sad Happy, Circa Waves are fairly straightforward: there’s no great mystery to their lyrical content, the album’s concept, or its arrangement. The blatant dichotomy of the album’s title is thoroughly represented throughout the collection, with the more melancholic and languid moments providing an intimacy that far outshines any of the more upbeat rockers. In English: “Sad Happy,” “Hope There’s A Heaven” and “Birthday Cake” provide some of the very best moments, though Circa Waves’ seemingly signature sound—with a ‘70s influence that keeps their performance raw and never overproduced to a sheen—is more prevalent on the tracks such as “Jacqueline” and “Move To San Francisco.”

Whatever the facet of their musical personality that you prefer, Sad Happy displays the talents of Circa Waves in crafting catchy songs with twinkling moments of nostalgia baked into their creative crust. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Sad Happy 4 of 5 stars.

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