Happy Hollows is an interesting band for an interesting time. They manage to sound punky and impulsive while creating convincing and well-thought out garage pop. As three musicians who all have ties in DC, but were spontaneously reunited in California, Happy Hollows is a band with a sense of unity as well as urgency; their panicked, quirky guitars running in tandem with each other like a goofy dance. The so called "catchy chaos" can be attributed to several factors, the fuzzed voice of lead vocalist Sarah Negahdari, the schizophrenic guitar lines, or the sudden and immediate shifts in tone occurring all over, including mid-track. They may be young but their balance is already sharp.
Take opener "Faces" for example, the opening riff sounds like a hair band, the bass pops in to change the aesthetic completely, and then Negahdari tops it with her Karen O swagger. The comparison is not strictly vocal; the style and even some of the songs tread towards Yeah Yeah Yeah's tribute. This is far from a bad thing; the energy bubbling underneath Spells is almost too much to exist without a reference point for listeners. Reminiscent of YYY's, as well as several other female-led bands, HH can go almost completely crazy across fourteen tracks without sacrificing attention span. Two of my favorites were polar opposites: the crazy voice-altered "Silver" takes some Strokes-ish aesthetics (a robotic voice, a simple, clean guitar chord-riff) and marries them with on-its-head background vocals. It is followed by "We Will Find You," a dynamic track, which switches between three distinct moods: the charming conversation, the tribal chant, and the grandiose pop chorus. They've come a long way since their first shows in laundromats and Japanese restaurants (true story according to the internet).
The ability of Happy Hollows to really smash a hook into your head on almost every track is pretty nifty, considering many acts can barely get one off that sticks at all. They make a wise choose in keeping pace by cranking the metronome on almost every track; there is never a dull moment of runny balladry. The energy is much better suited to the kinetic swell of rushing through power chords and cries of joy. And they keep coming and coming, "High Wire" has a synth riff in the beginning that comes out of nowhere, a pseudo-herald to the second half of the record, where Negahdari and the band take a darker tone. "Tortoise And Hare" is the closest thing we get to a dizzying slow song, complete with creepy strings and wilting melodies. And just when you think Spells is losing steam, "Tambourine" explodes, throws a word-less catchy chorus and a full-fledged mental breakdown all over the place.
"Second Lieutenant," a dreamy re-imagining of the despicably catchy first "Lieutenant," is both a clever and self-referential way of ending a surprisingly momentum packed record. Happy Hollows has a knack for tip-toeing the line between predictable and exciting, to elicit familiarity in a completely new and fresh set of songs. Happy Hollows may not have a ton of hype behind them just yet, but they have some serious assets. They have sincerity, and talent, and a hell of a lot of catchy material. And in a world where knock-offs often outsell the real deal, it is nice to know the real thing is still out there. -joe puglisi