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Happy Family, Japan




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Happy Family - s/t. 1995 Cuneiform (USA)
Happy Family - Toscco. 1997 Cuneiform (USA); 1997 Arcangelo
Happy Family - Minimal Gods. 2014 Cuneiform (USA)

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Perhaps no band arrived with such an in-your-face sound as Happy Family did in 1995. Their fabled live shows were popular amongst the tape trading crowd of the early 1990s. So there was quite a bit of buzz on what their first CD would sound like. The band insisted their albums come out on the preeminent Avant Prog label Cuneiform, and were willing to wait until that label had room on their release schedule. By 1995, anticipation was high, and Happy Family not only delivered, but exceeded, most everyone's expectation.

Consider the first track 'Rock & Young'. Hard to imagine anyone delivering such a strong overpowering opening punch as Happy Family did here. If this track doesn't move your heart rate up a few beats, you're probably dead already, and no one told you (did Aunt Sally forget your birthday for the first time? well, there you go...).
And it gets more intense from there. With fuzz bass, fiery sustain electric guitar, staccato piano, buzzing synthesizers, spastic rhythms, and an incredible imagination, "Happy Family" has to be in the discussion as one of the best albums of the 1990s. The label's comparison of a mix between Magma, King Crimson, Weidorje, Area, and Univers Zero are just flat out spot on. Happy Family took what Belgium's Present were doing in the 1980s, and accelerated it by 100 mph. Strap your seat belt on - hit play - and roar through 50 minutes of incredible intensity and complexity. Get rid of your treadmill, you'll burn 1000 calories just listening to this album. Need.... Gatorade.

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Happy Family's second album is a bit more "avant prog by the numbers" than the debut which was more of a consolidation of personal influences (Zeuhl, Symphonic rock, Canterbury, Chamber) and then sped up 10x. The intensity is still apparent, though there's more of an attempt to integrate cutesy type melodies - a hallmark of the genre - as if to overcompensate for the unrelenting tension the band brings forth. There's really no standout tracks, though the two lengthier numbers seem to play to Happy Family's strength of producing massive - and fast moving - slabs of sound. "Toscco" is an excellent followup, and many see it as an improvement, though I felt it was more of a step back to a safe zone, and thus less influential and reckless than the debut.

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It would be 17 years until we finally heard from Happy Family again. Their third album "Minimal Gods" sees Happy Family moving in new directions while maintaining their brand identity as it were. If you came to this album looking for a somewhat similar sound to their first two albums then... I have good news, you will not be disappointed. But as indicated, Happy Family have begun to tread new waters.  Most notably, an obvious modern math rock component has entered into their overall sound. Normally that's a term that is anathema to me, but in the capable hands of Happy Family, they are able to transcend the genre norms of clinical and cold precision, for something more alive and a sound that bursts from the speakers. Some would argue they always had a math rock type sound, and that may be true to some extent, though I personally heard more Present and even Canterbury if considering Happy Family's first album. What's most interesting to me is that "Minimal Gods" doesn't sound anything like the first two albums, and yet the music is entirely - and non mistakenly - Happy Family. There's a certain genius in being able to do that without alienating your fan base. Let's hope we don't have to await another generation to hear a 4th album.

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