ALBUM REVIEW: circa waves release 'happy,' side A of their newest record
Normally, after the release of a new album, artists spend months - sometimes even years - touring to support it, but not Circa Waves. The Liverpudlian band (god, I love that term) have gone ahead and released the first half of their fourth studio album less than a year after their last. Despite its name, Happy isn’t what you’d expect from the first side of an album titled Sad Happy; it’s a complex collection of complete, full-bodied tunes, all containing elements of some of the most intricate emotions that humans can feel. In an interview with American Songwriter, Shudall ruminates on the fact that he feels as if Circa Waves are finally the band they were always meant to be: “It takes a good four or five years to really get to know people and to become a solid band...This next record is our moment. We can show people our actual real sound and really become Circa Waves,” he said to interviewer Tina Benitez-Eves. Shudall also emphasized the fact that he felt a spark and didn’t want to let it get away from him, spending as much time as he could between all of Circa Waves’ shows and festival appearances writing and recording all of the songs that would eventually become Sad Happy.
The first song on the record, “Jacqueline,” was also the first single from it, a poppy song with a catchy guitar riff and an unforgettable chorus. It is, evidently, about a first-time mother, says lead singer Kieran Shudall in an interview with NME: "It’s about a struggling mother who I knew who was extremely sleep-deprived and going through a really hard time with a newborn. Because the song was quite upbeat sounding I wanted to write something that was quite real, something to mothers saying ‘you’re doing something crazy and amazing so let’s celebrate that a little bit’. Since writing that song I’ve had a baby myself, so now I can relate to my own song even more. You don’t hear many pop, indie, upbeat bangers about young mothers."
The second track, “Be Your Drug,” is a little more Different Creatures-adjacent than any of their more recent work has been, and I love it. It’s about being completely enamored by someone, to the point where you physically cannot think of anything or anyone but them. The pause at 2:13 when someone knocks a tambourine over makes it an instant classic. “Move to San Francisco” was the second single the guys released, and it’s got the same beachy, surf rock, tap-your-foot-until-it-falls-off vibes as “Jacqueline.” My personal interpretation of this song is that it’s meant to be both an ode to escapism and a critique of humans and the fact that we’ll do almost anything to avoid everything wrong in our lives except for what we need to do: look inside ourselves. In the song, Shudall sings, “If nothing else, I'm feeling zen / It seems the world is gone to shit again / So pack your bags, we're leaving soon / I heard they're selling flights to the pink moon.” It’s almost as if he’s like, yep, okay, fuck, again? It does feel, nowadays, like every time we wake up, the world has gone to shit. The chorus of the song echoes escapism, too: “I think that we should move to San Francisco / That's where the happy people go...You say you wanna move to San Francisco / That's where the pretty people go.” The problem with this is that running from your problems, no matter their size or scope, never solves them, and I think that’s what Circa Waves are trying to face with this song. We don’t need to go where people are happy and pretty to be happy and pretty ourselves; if anything, we’ll still be ugly and sad, just thousands of miles from home.
“Wasted On You” is a fun song, and that bassline is absolutely infectious. I had to listen to this song a few times in a row just to get my brain to focus on anything other than the FUNK of it all. It also kind of reminds of me of early Vampire Weekend. If there’s anything Circa Waves have absolutely perfected, it’s writing a song that makes you want to get on your feet, and how to weave an album with both bangers and songs that make you want to hold a lighter in the air (bonus points if the banger is also a lighter-in-the-air kind of song). Cynicism runs rampant in Happy. The dictionary definition of cynicism is “an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest.” Not gonna lie - it’s nearly impossible to even want to see the good in people anymore. Almost everyone is only in it for personal gain. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more and more cynical, to the point where I find it difficult to enjoy the things my friends and family do - the simple, popular things - simply because I know that there’s always a catch. Especially living in America. There’s always a catch.
The one song on this record that made me cry was “The Things We Knew Last Night.” In American Songwriter, Shudall said that the point of Sad Happy as a whole is “that sadness and happiness kind of blend into one.” This particular song is the slowest and most somber on the entire record, but it’s also the most hopeful. If I could ask the band one question, it’d be what the hell they meant this song to be, because the first time I listened to it, all I could think of was going to shows, of loving music. The first stanza reminds me of drunken nights in crowded venues, lingering on the outskirts of a rough crowd with your friends, waiting for your favorite songs so you could take full advantage of a pit: “You took the good times on the chin / Said ‘hold my drink I’m going in’ / And ran into the open sea / Of boys and girls with broken dreams.” The chorus itself is about the naysayers, those who have never and will never know the importance of music, who’ll never understand that going to shows is like going to church for some of us.
“Call Your Name” is partly (mostly) about being afraid to grow old. In a record that truly proves that appearances can be deceiving, it's one of the more existentially dreadful songs wrapped up in a rock and roll bow. The first stanza roped me in (In this fading summer light I see / My life flash 45 degrees / And I can’t believe I’m not 23 / I can’t retrieve this broken dream / And I wanna know / I wanna know / Why I’m so, so cynical") and the chorus kept me there, to the point where I had the song on repeat for almost an hour and a half. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who isn't afraid to grow old, to grow up and out of all of the things we loved in our youth, all of the things we could get away with doing (and if anybody says they aren't, they're liars). This song is meant to confront that, but I believe it's also meant to comfort, as well, to reassure that everyone feels the same as us.
Happy is, ultimately, an album about the complexities of human emotion and all of the things right now that there are to be angry about and to love, too, about the world and its inhabitants. The most important thing (and I believe, if this record has proven anything to me, that Circa Waves would agree) is to hold on to the things that make you feel a little less cynical, to the people in your life who keep you grounded when all you want, desperately, is to float away from all the bullshit. "Love You More" is the perfect finishing touch to Happy. It's an unashamed love letter to sole writer Kieran Shudall's compass, his map to escapism: "And you’re the only guiding light / To Liverpool tonight / To get my feet back on the ground / On the ground." It's lush, triumphant, and exaltant. There's no doubt in my mind it was meant to resemble The ending of this song fades perfectly into the beginning of "Jacqueline," and so the process of discovering that sad and happy are not always two entirely separate concepts begins again.
Circa Waves can be found on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and their website. They'll be out on tour with Red Rum Club and Vistas in the UK and Europe starting in late March. Don't miss them if you're over there!