Its artwork has the sort of washed-out color tones that usually suggest an album from Jack Johnson or one of his buddies, but do not be alarmed by the beanie you see on the cover of the Guggenheim Grotto’s Happy the Man — this is not campfire music for college sophomores. Rather, it’s an album of electronic-laced grown-up pop music, firmly grounded with acoustic guitars and harmonies, and filled to the brim with graceful hooks and instantly memorable, partly-cloudy melodies that should appeal to fans of smart Anglopop bands like Crowded House and the Trashcan Sinatras.
It’s a very subtle record, in other words, made up of songs with very subtle charms — but damn if they don’t all gang up on you and rope you in. I often listen to an album a dozen times or more before writing a review, and that’s been the case here — but I could have taken it off repeat a long time ago; I just keep replaying Happy the Man because it’s so gently addictive. Not every song lands with the impact of the killer opening one-two punch of “Fee Da Da Dee” (download) and “Her Beautiful Ideas” (with its wonderful refrain of “Let’s get naked and get under the sheets”), but there’s plenty to love here, and very little not to like.
Lovely on the surface, the Guggenheim Grotto’s music is seemingly tailor-made for Starbucks and television soundtracks — and it has already appeared in both locations — but don’t be deceived by its seemingly facile beauty: co-Grotto Kevin May says he and partner Mick Lynch “wanted to sing joyfully about sadness in the world” on this album, and they’ve succeeded in adding sweetly somber overtones to Happy‘s head-bobbing refrains. The result is an album that feels lighter than air, but carries a weight that will linger after the final chord fades. Wait for the physical product to reach shelves in January, or download the mp3 album now; either way, if you have a weakness for unabashedly sentimental, artfully assembled pop music, you won’t want to miss Happy the Man.