‘Happy Endings’ is literally an album that aims to take an optimistic look at death. And there’s certainly a lot worth dying for here (morbid pun intended).
The atmosphere that Crayola Lectern (formerly known as Chris Anderson) creates is quite singular; the sound is layered and dense in a way that sometimes fuses individual instruments, creating a halo effect that obfuscates distinctions between what is electric or acoustic and what is digital or analogue. The effect is striking and the closest I can come in comparison is ‘Mr & Mrs Smith and Mr Drake’ made by the titular persons as a side project from the Cardiacs. Or maybe ‘Rock Bottom’ by Robert Wyatt.
Musically as well, although ‘Happy Endings’ does not always sound like those two references, they are the most relevant I can think of. Slightly wobbly keyboards play a central role. Vocals are fragile yet simultaneously treated almost like instruments. There is a feeling of ebb and flow, and the mood is melancholic without any trace of aggression.
The songs are not in a hurry to open up for the listener, but gradually seep under your skin; although there are some great melodies, the focus is rather on a state of listening.
The Cardiacs connection also extends to the musicians, as Jon Poole (keyboards), Bob Leith (drums) and Bic Hayes (guitar) are all on the record. They also played on Crayola Lectern’s 2013 debut album ‘The fall and rise of…’ which was one of my favourite albums that year. Importantly, it is also the only album from that year that still lives on my iPhone.
And ‘Happy Endings’ is very much cut from the same cloth: Although there are five years between the albums, I could almost imagine them having been recorded simultaneously. While that might not be the case, the album was at least recorded quite some time ago. I first heard a pre-release version of it back in 2016 and as far as I can tell, it is the same mix that is now being released. Not that it matters, as this is an album that isn’t connected to, or bothered with, current musical trends. Instead, ‘Happy Endings’ quite matter-of-factly creates its own time and space, and dares the listener to enter.
Not catering to trends poses its own issues, and maybe finding a sympathetic label is one of them. Luckily, Onomatopoeia Records (with William D Drake among others on their roster) have now stepped up to the challenge. Let us hope we do not have to wait another five years for the next album!
File under: Essential