Album Review: Circa Waves – Sad Happy
Charlotte Black shares her opinion on the new Circa Waves album.
The indie-rock band Circa Waves released their newest 15 track album Sad Happy on the 13th March, and it is safe to say the hype for its debut was certainly met. Promotions for the album began back in November 2019, teasing fans with iconic album art and catchy singles. As the name suggests, the collection of songs is split into two halves: “sad” and “happy”, as this suggests the album is unsurprisingly able to lure these emotions and all the ones in-between. This range of both lyrical and instrumental content is then drawn together with a consistent warped carnival theme, which keeps the album cohesive as a collective piece.
Kicking the album off with a punchy conga tune is Jacqueline, which introduces the listener to the uplifting portion of the album and does it well. It falls into the identifier of a dancy summer anthem which, for myself and I’m sure many others, fits as a backing track for many of my happiest moments.
Be Your Drug follows on from this and leans even further into the title of catchy. Frontman Kieran Shudall, who produced the album, uses fast-paced drum and guitar underlays alongside simple, repetitive lyrics to really hook this track into your memory. This is one you will find yourself jamming out to whether it is playing out loud or just caught in your head.
Shifting tone somewhat but still on ‘Happy’, Move to San Francisco is a perfect road trip song, a sub-genre that the indie scene is partial to adopting. With a colourful chorus and an overall dreamy feel, the song embodies the youthful optimism associated with travel which, in a time where most of us are inside, allows a degree of escapism into that feeling of freedom.
Opening the ‘Sad’ side of the album is the titular single Sad Happy which encapsulates the feeling of the album as a whole – starkly bittersweet. A distorted, 80s style guitar carries the track along with a foot-tapping drumbeat whilst Kieran’s lyrics are mellow and sad. It leaves the listener not knowing whether to dance along or have a bit of a cry, to which I say why not both. Although perhaps do this where no-one can be too concerned about your investment in Circa Waves’ brilliant music writing.
Although this section is ‘Sad’, it is further made clear in the songs following Sad Happy, that the band is conscious not to weigh down the listener with explicitly downcast songs but instead approaches it with clever nuance, like as seen in earlier releases in their career such as T-Shirt weather. The maintained punchy backbeat through songs such as Wake Up Call and Battered & Bruised, contrasted with lyrics that remain focused on portraying the sadness around break-ups or the feeling of hopelessness emphasises the albums emotionally dichotomic theme. The use of instrumental versus lyrical juxtaposition allows for the exploration of the emotions between sadness and happiness, drawing listeners back to the initial concept behind this album as a tool to convey emotional complexity.
The euphoric feeling of basking in the summer sun, road-tripping across the country and looking back on memories from childhood are all encapsulated within Circa Waves’ Sad Happy.
However, instances where the album does focus on a more direct form of sadness on the slower tracks are found in Sympathy and Train to Lime Street. These both have their own value through their content being a consideration of undesirable emotion and the promotion of slowing down thoughts. This also prevents the album from becoming uniformed into just another predictable up-tempo pop release. While it could be considered somewhat self-indulgent to wallow in these drawn out and breathy songs, there is something both relaxing and cathartic about letting them to play out for a moment amidst other distractions.
The euphoric feeling of basking in the summer sun, road-tripping across the country and looking back on memories from childhood are all encapsulated within Circa Waves’ Sad Happy. Blending happy melodies with melancholic lyrics, Circa Waves ponders how one understands emotions that seem to be almost indistinguishable. While the album stays true to Circa Waves’ and the indie genre’s classic summertime anthems, Sad Happy displays the band’s mature departure into richer material, contradicting the happy nature that Circa Waves’ music traditionally exudes.