Happy Diving – Electric Soul Unity (Album Premiere)
by Steven Spoerl
For the past several years, this site’s been tracking Happy Diving with a fair amount of scrutiny. Ever since the band’s scintillating debut, they’ve been making frequent appearances on year-end lists and — more importantly — growing sharper with each successive release. Recently, there was a post that spotlighted “Holy Ground“, a towering single from the band’s forthcoming sophomore full-length, Electric Soul Unity. Today, it’s my distinct pleasure to be hosting the debut of that record, which stands as a new career high for the project.
Opening with “Bigger World” — a winking nod towards their outstanding debut LP — the band makes no bones about the fact that they’ve dramatically increased the size of their scope. Everything from the production to the songwriting indicates the band’s set loftier goals for themselves from the very outset of the record. Moreover, they’re dead-set on viciously attacking those goals until they’ve been all but completely demolished.
There’s a greater nuance in nearly every facet of their operation, whether it be atmospherics, production design, or reduced to something as simple as the guitar figures that propel Electric Soul Unity skyward. After only a scant few years of existence, Happy Diving have locked into something that feels like a deeply formidable culmination of their already-enviable body of work. It’s an astonishing feat that’s demonstrated in full by Electric Soul Unity‘s opening salvo, a trio of tracks that pack enough punch to flatten any prospective listeners.
When the title track hits, Happy Diving manage to not only strengthen their melodic approach but escalate the velocity of Electric Soul Unity‘s momentum considerably, creating the kind of magnetic pull that can be genuinely intimidating. By immediately scaling back to one of their most gentle moments to date in the following track, “Head Spell”, the band illustrate the depth of their understanding in creating and dissolving tension through sequencing, a trait that benefits the record enormously.
Of course, “Head Spell” only maintains that relative quiet for so long before launching a cavalcade of the kind of heavily bruised slacker-punk-informed shoegaze they’ve all but perfected with this record. The feedback comes surging in and Happy Diving continue to unleash a series of blows that are effectively heightened by the moments where it rescinds its attack in favor of something a lot more calming.
It’s a brief reprieve that carves out an area for the band that Happy Diving all but annihilates with a series of tracks in the record’s mid-section that match, if not outstrip, the ferocity of its opening trio. Before that memory’s gone completely, the band returns to the less forceful side of things with the laid-back opening half of the deeply compelling “Pain Country” that continues to expand the band’s musical range in ways that are both fascinating and surprisingly meaningful, pushing the boundaries of a very niche genre in a manner that fully illustrates why Happy Diving deserves to be set apart from the majority of their contemporaries.
“Pain Country” also sets up the record’s lone acoustic ballad, “Unknown Feeling”, with tremendous clarity, heightening both songs by virtue of placement. In “Unknown Feeling”, guitarist/vocalist and principal songwriter Matt Berry’s allowed the room to both showcase his improved gifts as a lyricists and underscore the narrative themes of Electric Soul Unity, capitalizing on both opportunities with the kind of understated grace that drives much of the record.
“Holding up my head to see the view, with you / but I don’t feel the way I want it to, it’s true” is the couplet that opens “Unknown Feeling”, hinting at the longings, frustrations, self-loathing, and near-irreparable romantic damage that constitutes the half-shared, half-abandoned bed of Electric Soul Unity‘s surprisingly emotional narrative core. By the time the grand finale rolls around in the form of the characteristically explosive “River Will Flow”, it feels celebratory due to not only its surface elements but because its, in part, the piece that both completes and frees the overwhelmingly down-trodden, world-weary cycle that precedes the track.
In all, Electric Soul Unity is a record that examines the human condition in dire moments, yet recognizes that there’s so much more than some small modicum of life-giving moments that also comprise those stretches. Happy Diving specifically targets that dichotomy and emphasize the tempered clarity that can accompany the self-discovery typically attained in those moments.
The record derives a considerable amount of power from exploiting those divides and then expands them outwards through exceedingly thoughtful arrangements that establish the band as contemporary heavyweights. Thanks to its consistency, its depth of intelligence, and its staggering comprehension, Electric Soul Unity doesn’t just stand as one of 2016’s finest records but one of its most essential. It’s an extraordinary effort from a band that’s more than ready to take on any challengers and it won’t go down without putting up an unforgettable fight.
Listen to Electric Soul Unity below and pre-order the record from Topshelf here.