In the digital age, one-man bands abound. Talented artists have the ability to record music from the comfort of their bedrooms, with their laptops as drummers and their keyboards as back-up support. That’s how Mike Lande started Happy Lives, a Brooklyn-based rock band that infuses their music with electronic, sample-based elements.
What limits most bands of this nature is the inability to transform the bedroom recordings into captivating live performances. Happy Lives does not have this problem. They’re able to seamlessly perform their songs using samples, midi loops and other strangely complex elements of electronica. And, as the group says in their Earbits Artist Bio, “Live remixes may occur.”
But, if you’re unable to attend a Happy Lives show, the band’s recordings are a great testament to Lande’s numerous talents. The band’s album, Happy Lives, features six tracks of extremely diverse music.
Opening tracks “We’re So…” and “Slacks and Slippers” are fairly straightforward indie rock songs with an electronic, sample-based and drum-machine driven twist. The former has a catchy, sing-a-long chorus, and the latter is filled with emotionally-charged screams of “You’re never, ever free!” Both are loud, distortion-heavy tracks that inspire emotion.
As soon as the a capella opening of “Prufrock 2.1” begins, things get crazy. That song begins with the band singing “Oh my god it’s true / I fell in love and lost it all / it’s suddenly new” with effected, layered vocals. The song’s almost like a piece of performance art— soft-spoken, acapella lyricism in occasionally out-of-tune voices along with a minimalistic backing track. Like a punk rock version of The XX. The song is the album’s weirdest, but also one of its best. It’s proof that, by tinkering with samples and effects, the band can achieve some strange yet awesome stuff.
“Gums” has an industrial beat with chaotic screams and chanted vocals— the album’s heaviest track. It wouldn’t sound out of place at a late-night, gritty warehouse rave. It wouldn’t sound out of place at a garage rock concert either. It’s Happy Lives ability to seamlessly combine the chaos of live music with the control of electronic music that makes them so good and allows them to appeal to a wide audience while remaining delightfully weird.
“Brutus” is a reinvention of the goofy yet danceable post-rock of the 1980s, again updated with modern technology. The sound of the vocals are nowhere near consistent, and the rest of the instrumentation is seemingly chaotic. The only consistent thing is the driving, catchy beat that’s sure to inspire at least some form of movement from its listeners.
Although the vocals of Happy Lives are often cloaked with effects, the group’s more traditional musical talent shines through on “WMP,” the album’s closing track. Lande sings in an amazing voice over softly-strummed acoustic guitar. If you listened to the rest of the album first, you’ll probably expect the song to transition into a crazy, loud, distorted section. It never does. It’s totally different than the rest of the songs on Happy Lives, but just as good. The band seems to understand that listeners want variety. The freedom of recording in the bedroom allows for a freedom of style, a release from the constraints of traditional genre. In that aspect, the band delivers.
Happy Lives combine elements of unique bands— the new age punk of The Black Lips, the jangling dance guitar of Bloc Party, the electronic drums of The Faint— to create their sound. But overall, the uniqueness of Happy Lives stems from its track-to-track diversity. Their self-titled album is a demonstration of their widespread talents, which, when placed together, make a unique, captivating, cohesive sound.