Never Trust A Happy Song


Canvasback/Atlantic, 2011

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love


It’s almost the start of fall, and I realize that I’ve never given props to one of the albums that ruled my summer. Though it was actually released in September of 2011, this debut full-length from LA indie poppers Grouplove experienced a slow rise to its eventual sizzling of the airwaves and festival circuits. Of course, you will undoubtedly recognize second single “Tongue Tied” from its appearance in the Apple iTouch commercial, and it’s that effervescent, pop charmer that gave most of us our first hint at what Grouplove could do. Tellingly, it’s also their first number one Billboard hit.

Never Trust A Happy Song is a pretty deceptive title, since most of the material here is gloriously upbeat pop, absolutely kinetic with energy. My most immediate comparison is Modest Mouse, minus the pathos; Christian Zucconi’s rough, rafter-reaching vocals absolutely recall Isaac Brock, though Zucconi’s vocal interplay with girlfriend Hannah Hooper adds in some nice lightness.

The album itself is definitely front-loaded. First out of the gate is the anthemic “Itchin’ On A Photograph,” which is tricked out with handclaps, relentlessly building guitars, and a chorus that begs to be sung along to. It’s a sun-kissed moment, designed for hurtling down a highway in late summer. Next up comes the swirling, foot-stomping thrills of “Tongue Tied” and “Lovely Cup,” which keep the momentum moving headlong. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But “Colours” is the peak of this album – strangely enough, since it comes directly copy and pasted from their 2010 self-titled EP (along with “Naked Kids,” which shows up later in the album). Still, I guess there’s nothing wrong with mining your own material, especially when this cut is so good. It starts out a coiled buzz of energy but quickly explodes into a flurry of shimmering guitars and drums. Zucconi’s wailed refrain “We call it life / Oh yeah that’s what we call it / When you can’t call it at all” brings the song towards its resonant, cathartic close, until all that’s left is a tinkling of tambourine.

So when Grouplove is good, they’re quite good – passionate, energetic, and creative. But remember when I mentioned this album being frontloaded? Once you pass the halfway point with “Slow” – which is a lovely, well, slow-burner, bringing Hooper’s ethereal vocals to the forefront – things start to get a little hit-or-miss. I can’t see why “Naked Kids” was good enough to make a second appearance on this disc. It’s meant to be cheerful and lighthearted, but it just comes off as cheesy and insubstantial; I hit my breaking point when “free” was rhymed with “Oprah Winfrey.” Meanwhile, “Spun” and “Betty’s Bomb Shell” are inconsequential filler that veer from the sound that actually gave Grouplove their distinctiveness, and “Chloe” is catchy, but a million other indie bands have used the same formula.

It’s the disc’s penultimate cut that gives some sense of what the band can do: “Cruel And Beautiful World” is a quiet, spare duet between Zucconi and Hooper, just vocals, ukulele, and a soaring chorus: “It’s a cruel and beautiful world / And I got my girl / And if it seems like we’re falling behind / We’re just slippin’ and tuggin’ from the mouths of our minds.” It’s a promising song, and should’ve stood alone as the closer. But being that the band hasn’t quite figured out their pacing yet, they tack on another instance of filler with “Close Your Eyes And Count To Ten.”

I saw Grouplove live in July at the Firefly Festival in Delaware, and the show itself was remarkably similar to the album: the singles were met with a thrilling reception, but the rest of the material had trouble hitting its stride. Still, Never Trust A Happy Song is a promising start for these Californians, and as long as they can keep up the fresh, vibrant energy, there’s a spot for them in the indie scene.

Rating: B

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© 2012 Melanie Love and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Canvasback/Atlantic, and is used for informational purposes only.