Album art by: Joao Machado
Photo Credit: Nathan West
Royal Potato Family Records
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Our Favorite Part
I Can Hear You Calling
See Me On My Way
Half Step Grind
Second Heart (Reprise)
Stuart Bogie – saxophones
Miles Arntzen – drums
Eric Biondo – backing vocals, percussion
Nikhil Yerawadekar – bass
Ryan Ferrera – guitar
Luke O’Malley- guitar and vocals
Jared Samuel – keyboards and backing vocals
Colin Stetson – saxophones
Superhuman Happiness would seem to evoke a sense of beatific ecstasy described by the likes of some obscure mystical sect, but it also manages to be an unusually apt description of the sort of infectious, energizing joy that the Brooklyn-based band plays with at live shows. Led by the boyishly mischievous Stuart Bogie, the septet is probably one of the more accomplished bands I’ve come across in recent memory – you can practically play a rather dizzying game of “six degrees of separation” with the members of Superhuman Happiness as they’ve all played alongside the likes of TV on the Radio, Antibalas, Iron and Wine, the Phenomenal Handclap Band and others. So these boys can fucking play, if you know what I mean.
Over the last couple of years, while playing with their respective other outfits, the Brooklyn-based septet have released a couple of 45s and 7 inch singles and their 2011 EP, The Physical through local purveyors of all things funk, regardless of genre, Electric Cowbell Records. As a result they’ve gained quite a bit of attention across the blogosphere – on this site, in particular, their GYML single was reviewed quite favorably and The Physical landed at number 20 on this site’s Best of 2012. But perhaps just as important for any band, they started to gain national attention opening for the likes of Rubblebucket, Marco Benevento, Sinkane and Red Baraat. And although it may have taken three very busy years for the band to write, perfect and record the material that comprises their full-length debut Hands, the album, which was released just the other day through Royal Potato Family Records, will not only be highly-anticipated through the fans they’ve won over at live shows, it may also mark the band’s coming out party on the national stage.
Opening the album with a series of handclapping that becomes a complicated syncopation, followed by lyrics sung in a call and response, “Our Favorite Part” does something that no other Superhuman Happiness track has done yet – it gives listeners a sense of the frenetic, ecstatic joy of the band’s live sets. Bandleader, Stuart Bogie has publicly mentioned that after attending a couple of improv classes, a popularly taught handclapping warm up exercise became instrumental in many of the compositions, and in fact, many of the songs actually wrap themselves around the band clapping in frequently complex syncopation. “I Can Hear You Calling” fuses a tight, calypso riddim with lyrics that have larger, metaphysical concerns – namely the sense of being lost and trying to find your way again – before ending in a lushly layered freak out. “Sentimental Pieces” sounds a little bit like “GYML” and “Hounds” but with a sinuous, slinky bass line. It owes its slow burning funk to Afrobeat and calypso – but with a pop sensibility and accessibility. The end section of the song is a basic two-step, old school kind of funk propelled by guitar and bass. “See Me On My Way,” one of my favorite songs on the album starts off with a percussion-led introduction before turning into a smooth bit of 1970s and1980s-inspired pop reminiscent of Earth, Wind and Fire and Phil Collins – but funkier and beguilingly playful. The hook is punctuated with Samuel’s playful bursts of synth chords and Bogie’s bright, colorful blasts of sax. “First Heart” and “Second Heart,” songs that have been highlights of the band’s live sets are punctuated with big, hip hop styled beats, buzzing electronics, with lyrics that deal with the nature of profound love. The song ends with an incredible sax solo by Bogie and it leads to the funky, propulsive and strangely atmospheric freak out of “Elevator Elation.” “Half Step Grind” has an angular, math-like precision, propelled forward by great bass line and bright bursts of synth and keyboards. After hearing the song, I was reminded quite a bit of Stop Making Sense-era Talking Heads, especially with Samuel’s keyboard solo, but with lyrics that seem to describe characters on the brink of a psychotic break from reality – all while discussing the impermanence of memory. That’s some deep shit, y’all.
As a full-length debut, Hands is impressive. Although each composition manages to be extremely complex and defy expectations, they do so in a way that’s accessible with a mischievous playfulness. Add to that, material that manages to have deep, metaphysical concerns – and yet be incredibly funky and fun. And there are some memorable hooks throughout. When I first heard “Second Heart,” at a live show, I was singing the chorus while at my day job for days. I haven’t been able to get “See Me On My Way” and “Half Step Grind” out of my head since I first heard the album, and I suspect that I won’t be able to for quite some time. I’ve listened to quite a number of albums this year, and Hands is not only my favorite of the year so far, it’s become a part of my regular rotation. Once you hear this album, I think you’ll be won over by their charm, their overwhelming joy as I have.