By Alec Wooden
Two tracks into my maiden spin through The Happy Hollows Spells, I wanted to be sure a couple mistakes weren’t made, so I made it a point to remind myself (literally, on paper): “You are not reviewing The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s.” Five minutes later, that was changed to “Cat Power.” Then “Joy Divison.” Then “R.E.M. if they had a chick singer was really into Ian Curtis from Joy Division.”
I hate to play the comparison game — especially four times in the first paragraph of a review. But the Happy Hollows are a tough (albeit rewarding) roadmap to follow. Without some markers along the way, you may get a little lost in the 14 track, 51 minute romp of pure imagination and creative zeal that is Spells.
Sarah Negahdari is the star of this show (though you never get the feeling that she has the ego to claim that herself). Encompassing the very best of all the above band’s lead singers, you can’t help but love this girl from the get-go. Sometimes growling, sometimes crooning, sometimes downright screaming, Negahdari is the frantic and frenetic glue that holds this band together (all apologies to drummer Chris Hernandez and bassist Charlie Mahoney — they’re spot on and professional).
The clear standout track is “Death to Vivek Kemp” (which, probably not coincidentally, is the album’s lead single) — it soars, pushes, pulls and grimes itself through the range where Negahdari is at her best. “Silver” and “We Will Find You” are the groovers, and ones that stay perfectly within themselves. “Lieutenant” shows the band’s math rock chops (think I forgot to make a comparison for that one) and proves that Negahdari is more than a pretty face/voice (she’s both) — she’s got a solid ear for melodic structure and plays the bejesus out of her guitar.
It’s about at this point the only problem with Spells becomes somewhat clear. There’s too much of a good thing here. 14 tracks over 51 minutes is a little much — many of the songs on the back end of the record begin to water down the “spell” and, by the time it’s all over, you feel too tired to give it a second spin. In particular, the two Mahoney-sung tunes, while great in their own right (“Delorean” is downright anthemic), don’t do much in context except beg the question “Hey, where’d that girl go?”
All of these heaping compliments towards Happy Hollows recall the problem boiling beneath the surface for most hyper-indie/alternative bands today. How far will this music go? How far can it go? Does the band care? Should the band care? The likely end result is a growing cult following and solid romps through mid-size club and festival tours. That’s success, folks, and The Happy Hollows will get theirs. Is this music ever going to be ready for mass consumption? No, and that may be for the best (then critics wouldn’t get to feel like we’re onto something special all the time). I’m not in A&R, so it’s not my job to hypothesize about the next step of the band — it’s my job (and my pleasure) to simply report that this step isn’t to be missed. Like a playlist of great artists put on a blind shuffle, Spells is an exceptional body of work sure to turn some heads.