Electric Soul Unity
Reviewed by: Max Miller
For the most part, I’m happy there are still bands like Happy Diving around — bands playing fuzzy, scuzzy indie rock where you can practically smell the mustiness of a house show basement and the stench of a dozen armpits. The Oakland five-piece embodies an archetype that’s been going strong since the advent of Dinosaur Jr. and the Meat Puppets, if not longer. Happy Diving’s feedback-saturated debut, Big World, was released on Father/Daughter Records, to much acclaim. Their sophomore LP, Electric Soul Unity, comes to us on Topshelf Records, one of F/D’s few rivals when it comes to ear-to-the-ground prescience.
Fittingly, the album’s opener is titled “Bigger World” and opens with a squeal of feedback and layers of fuzzed-out guitar deeper and murkier than ever before. There’s a shoegazing quality to the density of Happy Diving’s distortion, which all but swallows up the bass and vocals. The latter could fairly be described as “mumbly but melodic,” and seem streamlined for audience chant-alongs, even if said audience doesn’t necessarily know any of the lyrics. The real pay-off in any given Happy Diving song, though, is the harmonized guitar lead. Compare the approach to whichever band you please — Thin Lizzy, Weezer, Iron Maiden, Fang Island, Baroness, Queen, Tony Molina, etc. — the point is, it’s usually quite effective.
Single “Don’t Be Afraid Of Love” piles on the most hooks of any cut on Electric Soul Unity, with vocals that don’t even make an appearance until nearly halfway in, and which quickly exit to make room for more guitars. The title track serves as its faster, shorter little brother. Slower, more anthemic songs also find a home on the record, like “Head Spell,” “Pain Country” or “Fantasy,” which is like a power ballad condensed into a minute and a half.
Toward the end of the album, the band really pulls a shocker and includes “Unknown Feeling,” a short acoustic number. But overall, Happy Diving rarely change up their approach, which makes Electric Soul Unity feel a tad bloated by the time you reach its b-side. But, as with an album like Diarrhea Planet’s recently-released Turn To Gold, the record feels more like an advertisement for Happy Diving’s live show. Given the chance to jump around to the music, to feel its fuzzy tendrils envelop you and to watch the band shred through the solos on “Shed Light” or “The Call, It Thunders,” I imagine the Electric Soul Unity experience becomes much more…well, electric. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The main reason I’m happy bands like Happy Diving exist isn’t so I can sit around and listen to them in my room; I’d rather be there with them in that basement.