The Happy Fits exudes joy and panic on their newest album ‘What Could Be Better’
Alt rock band The Happy Fits is as out of their depth as the rest of us in their newest release, What Could Be Better. The album operates at the thin line between thrill and apprehension, wrapping panic in a layer of exuberance.
The band first garnered attention for their 2016 debut EP Awfully Apeelin’, which rapidly racked up Spotify plays with a quirky, precocious blend of electric cello and acoustic guitar. What Could Be Better returns to the goofy sense of humor and self-deprecating lyrics of their first album, but moves away from the small trials of high school life to confront the scary freedom of young adulthood.
This theme is immediately apparent in their single, “No Instructions,” which captures the chronic uncertainties of growing up. Calvin Langman, the lead vocal, sings about seeking authorities that ultimately reveal themselves as unreliable, as well as asking questions with no answer. The chorus concludes, “I’m waiting for my mind to go to sleep / So I can get some peace,” suggesting that any relief from worry is inevitably temporary.
In the accompanying music video, bandmates Langman, Ross Monteith, and Luke Davis dress up as cowboys against the backdrop of an overtly fake Old West set. The shoot playfully caricatures the Marlboro Man cliche of American masculinity, as the band members play the role of kids wearing boots too big for them to fill.
That imagery gestures at Langman’s relationship with his Filipino-American heritage and the childhood alienation he experienced as one of the few Asian-Americans at his school, which the title track, “What Could Be Better,” reflects upon more directly. The first verse plunges straight into the tensions inherent in a hyphenated cultural background: “There’s a hole in my consciousness where I feel I belong.” The ironic, contradictory dual meanings within the title of the song and the album as a whole strives to contain clashing emotions and identities.
Meanwhile, “Moving” applies the album’s typical emotional key to romance, conveying the fear of losing a love interest. Handclaps mimic the out-of-control heart rate of the fight-or-flight response. There is no hard edge of cynicism here, only an endearing vulnerability evident in pleading lyrics like “Won’t you love me all the time?” Even melancholy moments are buoyed by the determinedly euphoric delivery, as if each song is straining to overcome all of life’s misfortunes and disappointments by sheer force of will.
The album slows down in the laid-back, equally emotional “Sailing,” exhibiting a gentleness not unprecedented but definitely unusual in the Happy Fits discography. This tender track remains inflected with fear and doubt, creating a compelling, complex mix of feelings in just a few short lines. “Sailing”’s intimacy proves the versatility of a band known for catchy hits.
The standout song, however, is the lead single, “Go Dumb.” Both an urgent call to action and a love letter to the craft, it is filled with particularly evocative images like “I can slug the sleaze (like a rambling runt).” The rousing chorus asks listeners to choose “go[ing] dumb” and celebrates “being here for fun” rather than restraining these impractical impulses.
A complicated relationship with conventional success is an idea explored in their early work as well: “Don’t waste your potential / Try your best like your father did,” goes “Best Tears,” from their 2018 EP Concentrate. But “Go Dumb” in particular represents a singular moment of clarity and optimism in an album often concerned with confusion and directionlessness.
Following a series of strong EPs, the band continues to develop their unique voice and carve out a secure place in the indie rock scene. The portrait of youth in What Could Be Better lives up to the band’s name. The album vibrates with energy, and their newest set of relentlessly happy but frenzied tracks both offers a reprieve and speaks to our anxious, doom-scrolling times.
What Could Be Better is out today.