Here are a selection of Happy Ghosts album reviews:
It has been done before
Not only is the history extremely extensive in Happy Ghosts & everything that the main part of its core in Andrew Muecke has been doing throughout his vast career…but this dude is so incredibly well organized that it would put the most meticulous of us all to shame – myself included! For real…touring through the main site for Happy Ghosts and digging into this whole album over the past week has been a real exercise in what I can absorb mentally y’all…I’m more than impressed with what I’ve been learning about this Australian-based band and the uniqueness that crawls all over It Has Been Done Before. This record’s got the kind of title that’ll immediately have you nodding your head in agreement with its visible statement, and audibly it’ll have you questioning whether or not everything really HAS been done before or not! And I’m loving it…you regular readers know the less typical something is, the better chance you likely have of grabbing the attention of a guy like me that damn near does think he’s heard it all by now. I’ve heard just a few tunes in my time…and I can proudly vouch for Happy Ghosts offering your ears something different than they’ve probably experienced – something new is always worth checking out and turning up for dear readers, dear friends…step into this collaborative journey with me.
The artistic nature and ambitiousness of an album like It Has Been Done Before gets revealed instantly as the opening track “Too Quiet” begins. There’s not a doubt in my mind that Happy Ghosts would likely end up in the Trip-Hop section after having had a listen to the entire album in-full, but as it begins, there’s a bit more sparkle & shine on this first impression that has it drifting towards Dream Pop as well. Mind you, you could probably just as easily cite this song’s relationship with spoken word, and straight-up free-flowing thoughts & creativity in action – this is living & breathing art when it comes right down to it, fueled by a stylistically versatile performance from guest singer Diana Bosselena. While there’s no doubt this tune is likely as rehearsed as any other would be, her performance has such an impressively organic vibe to it and unique melodic direction, that what you’ll find on “Too Quiet” really has that in-the-moment feel to it…like this is all coming out spontaneously, in real-time as we listen. The most you’re gonna find me conceding to ya is that what Happy Ghosts has going on will certainly appeal more to the artistically-inclined and adventurous when it comes to listening to music…but in my books, that’s always a great thing. It’s the kind of differences that Happy Ghosts are making that lead to longevity, a super satisfying career, and a devout fan-base over time. “Too Quiet” is a fairly subtle & spacious opener, almost despite the vibrant bass-line grooves that’ll show up…it’s the kind of opening track that informs your ears they’re about to be in-store for more unique tunes than what they hear every day.
The sheer amount of tangible POETRY in the mix on this record is more than enough to keep me listening, never-mind how good it all sounds too. I will always be a huge fan of low-key vibes like “Hang Low” that come along with that serious emotional weight – and this would likely be a stronger example of how Happy Ghosts relates closer to the Trip-Hop section of sound like I was tellin’ ya about earlier. Joined by Ashes & Dreams as the featured guest on “Hang Low,” Happy Ghosts works the undercurrent of sound perfectly, pulling you right into the depths of the details in this tune from the music to the microphone. The cards are laid out on the table clear as day by track two on It Has Been Done Before – listeners should have a good grip on how this experience is gonna be a whole lot different than what they probably typically have rockin’ on their playlists…and in my heart of hearts, I can only hope they’re gonna love what they’ve found as much as I have. I don’t need FLASHY hooks – I need memorable ones – I need experiences in sound that cling to my bones & my soul long after the music has stopped spinning…and “Hang Low” is a perfect example of that to the nth degree. Stellar production, snazzy sound, stunningly artistic ambitions, and vocals that are brilliantly well-suited to the whole vibe – everything about “Hang Low” stands out for all the right reasons and reveals remarkable attention to the finest of details. As tight as a journey into the artistic realm of sound can be, “Hang Low” switches it up along the way between the light & dark, and delivers on a powerfully memorable master-class in musical subtlety – it ain’t gonna be the kind of track that assaults your senses, so much as awaken them.
“My Apocalypse Now” adds in a spark of energy you’ll immediately notice, largely due to the brightened vocals of Kaer Trouz in the mix on this tune, right there shining on the surface, loud & proud. Bonus points for the bass-lines here too…good lord…Happy Ghosts has a real gift when it comes to assembling music that catches our attention with ease, in addition to creating unique soundscapes that set the stage for these guest stars he’s found to really let loose and try exciting new things. I’m not even really here to argue whether or not everything works in an accessible way when it comes to the masses out there…I can only ever tell ya what’s workin’ for the ears I’ve got on my head, and this definitely does. There’s like this…I dunno what you’d call it…like Indie/Jazz aspect of “My Apocalypse Now” that seems to bring out this inherently unique energy and uplifting groove on this tune that’s gonna be about 100% more addictive than you’ll probably even realize at first. While this cut has the advantage of a more energetic vibe than the previous two cuts that start the album, it’s that same aspect that could potentially prove to be more challenging for some as they make the transition, know what I mean? Essentially, “My Apocalypse Now” has a more upfront style of sound working in its favor…the kind of vibrant energy that’s going to get noticed by everyone listening for sure…but it’s that same jolt from the laidback chill & mellowness of what we’d experienced prior that could throw people for at least a moment or two on that first set of initial spins through It Has Been Done Before. So be it I say! There’s nothing wrong with the people out there doing a double-take to see if they’re still listening to the same record, or peaking their curiosity in a way that makes them check out the credits to see what’s goin’ on in what they’re listening to…the switch in direction here from Happy Ghosts should accomplish that.
There’s a really rad set of videos that accompanies the album as well…I highly recommend checking it out…lots of awesome footage to be seen paired along with the music, and “Where Do We Go” is one of the highlight examples of that in my opinion. I love old vintage footage and all the cracks, tears, and rips you find in the scenes you see…that kinda stuff is always my jam, and the video for “Where Do We Go” is fully loaded with all that visible awesomeness I dig on. Featuring Romancito on the mic for this fourth tune on It Has Been Done Before, the synth vibes & low-end sound gets downright THICK around the man as he sings…that perfect hint of piano accenting the melody along the way to give the deep & dark mysterious vibes that needed balance of a lil’ light in the mix. This is a pretty damn slick groove when you examine it up close…sensual and sensory, Romancito has put in a solid performance that remains focused hard on finding the right moments & opportunities to make the impact he should on a tune like this. You’ll find he’s not out to dominate this cut, he’s here to complement the vibe goin’ on…and so as a result, Romancito isn’t filling every second with added vocals – quite a bit of “Where Do We Go” allows us a larger glimpse into how the music of Happy Ghosts plays such a significant role in what we hear. Our ears are always going to gravitate to vocals as listeners…that’s natural, and even more so in a situation like this where each singer we hear is different…it becomes second nature to compare it all along the way as we tour through the record. Adding in a bit more space for the music to stand out like Happy Ghosts and Romancito makes room for in “Where Do We Go” is highly effective – I felt like the balance on this track was right in-line with what helps make a song’s most main elements come alive in that all-important way that catches our interest not from flashy hooks, but because of pure substance.
While there are a lot of great & noteworthy voices to be found guest-starring on the songs throughout this entire lineup, what you’ll find on “Keep The Silence” featuring Mandy Leigh Storm instantly reveals a sensational, powerhouse talent on the microphone with a whole bunch of fantastic technique & tone in the mix for ya to enjoy. Darn near opera-esque at points in the way she sings it…there’s just that much involved in her approach and the demands it would place upon her voice…no question she’s nailing it like the professional Mandy clearly is – and her biggest highlights in the upper range of her vocals are truly something to behold. All-in-all, I really like the juxtaposition & contrast to be found in the low-end groove and the richness of Mandy’s vocals…it’s one of the most noticeably complete tunes you’ll find on the record that’s managed to navigate the two worlds of artistic design & accessible sound as one. From what I’ve read and what I’ve gathered…unbeknownst to me upon pushing play…was that the actual tie-in between me here at SBS and Happy Ghosts, presumably, is a one Mr. Matt Cahill – and anyone that’s familiar with his work in The Quiet Room or Evoletah would know that had I known this, I’d probably have presumed to find something just like I’m hearing now in this project. Somewhere back in time, Andrew and Matt had joined forces on a track called “Voices” – factor in the ol’ six degrees of separation, and I’d imagine that’s what has eventually led to Happy Ghosts being on our pages today. Hearing a track like “Keep The Silence” makes me appreciate how the community tends to look out for each other in that regard…someone out there knew I’d probably like this record, and I’m stoked it found its way over here to me in Canada from all the way over there in Australia. Because I’ve got all the time in the world for living & breathing art like you’ll find in a song like this, or on this record at-large for that matter…and I can’t even imagine a world where every one of us wouldn’t have time for Mandy’s voice.
“In Between” – right at track number six out of eleven total…I see what ya did there Happy Ghosts. Right square in the middle of it all, this cut makes an immediately favorable impression…like I’m pretty much straight up in love with the music & how “In Between” starts out…and all the instrumental-based snapshots we get in between the vocals as well. I dig what Beng Calma-Alcazaren adds to this song and how she sings it, though I’ll acknowledge it’s a very complementary part in the sense that the balance of strengths all-around here stays pretty even keeled & consistent energy-wise. That may, or may not be the winning combination for the listeners out there…honestly, that’s always tougher to say – to me, I feel like “In Between” delivers on a soulful & stylistic sound we can rely on…there might be a bit of coloring outside of the lines towards the end of this tune, but it still holds firmly intact overall. “They all think one thought” – and in this particular cut, they remain locked in on it, executing the vision with precision and professionalism, tackling this track like they’ve made sure to check all their ideas off along the way. It’s honestly kind of a strange song in the sense that it’s harder to pin down exactly what the one main standout element or hook might be, but immensely satisfying in the sense that you can just enjoy the entire experience as a whole & know that what you’re getting is likely more of what you love.
I’m not saying I’m having a weird beginning to 2022 & all…but this actually ain’t the first time post-Xmas that I’ve run into a song with Christmas in its title…and…like…I mean…I know we all tend to get the decorations up a bit earlier each & every year as time marches on…but in February & March? That’s when we’re releasing our Christmas tunes out there now, music community? Congratulations…I’d never have seen that move coming…and given that I naturally rebel against any Xmas-themed music, catching me by surprise is definitely the advised route to take if you want a chance with these ears of mine I tell ya. “Christmas Star” is actually quite the compelling song…all kidding aside, it’s not what you’d expect out of a song with Christmas in its title, that much I can confirm. It’s full of airy atmosphere and ice-like vibes that complement the theme & idea in a clever way…the bass remains an absolutely knockout element in the music once again…crisp beat…and a wonderfully poetic performance from Snowflake. With all the imagery and crystalline sound goin’ on here, it’s almost like you can feel the temperature drop a few more degrees around you as you chill out to this audible poetry in action and the frozen piano melody that creeps into this song to give it an additional dimension of sparkling prism-like beauty. Snowflake is something else…another real highlight on the mic in this lineup of songs is revealed again here if you ask me…I’m not saying that “Christmas Star” is the most accessible cut on the record – but what I am saying is that there’s an alluring and appealing pull to the artistic design of this track that is bound to catch the people’s attention out there, and once again retain it with expressively poetic depth.
There’s a chance that “Traveling Lights” might wander a bit further into the artistic realm than most out there can follow…but it truly is hard to say. There’s fundamental rhythm & groove right at the core of a cut like this that should still be more than enough of a lifeline for the average everyday listener to hang onto…the free-flowing, angelic & stylistic sound of Lisa Debenedictis proudly takes what could have been straight-ahead, into a more diverse series of melodies on the microphone to pair with the music. My gut tells me that “Traveling Lights” likely pushes the threshold of what people would get by about ten percent too far…I’m not fully convinced it’d be the ultimate cut they’d come back to from this new album by Happy Ghosts, but at the same time, it’s not like I imagine anyone out there turning it off or even turning it down either. If anything, there’s a good chance that this might even end up being one of THE strongest cuts on the record over time…I find our ears tend to naturally resist what’s truly new, & no matter how much we might desire to hear that kind of uniqueness, it still takes a while to settle in sometimes. Tons of the regular names on my playlists do this exact same thing to me – music that’s proven to be reliable in the past, goes in a new direction or tries something different on that next record…and at first, sometimes I recoil…and then like, a week or so, I’m mercilessly addicted to it. I don’t know that this is necessarily going to be the case with “Traveling Lights” – I’ve road tested this cut as much as I have any of the rest on this album, but it’s still on-point when it comes to the production, performance, and creativity on display…I’d imagine that eventually, this cut could really grow on me. It’s consistent & cohesive with the rest of the record and ultimately I respect that; it’d be way more abnormal to somehow come out feeling like every single track on an album was your all-time favorite.
A lot of this record reminds me somewhat of the impact listening to Massive Attack had on me back in the day…such extraordinarily adventurous & rhythmic moments in time that seemed so outside of the ordinary, bringing real art into the mainstream. I get that from “The Forest Of Dreams” once again, and it’s always going to be a welcome comparison in my world…Kimberly Steele has got quite the voice and a range that reaches right up to the top of the dial…and she knows how to use it, that I can confirm. There are some monumentally challenging moments when it comes to the demands on the vocals in this cut, and hearing Kimberly rise to the occasion with such confidence & steady tone, adding such power into such what’s ultimately an extremely delicate sound…I think a lot of ears out there would be very impressed by this combination goin’ on in “The Forest Of Dreams.” The artistic dimension of the music & design of these tunes never wavers…and it’s been quite the experience to hear what each and every guest-star has brought to their moment. I’d imagine this was a project based on real creative freedom and artistic expression as its main priorities…and if that is indeed the case, you can’t help but listen to this album and feel like the mission has been accomplished in-full. The main hooks ARE the songs, full-stop. You might feel like there’s a track or two along the way with a real standout element to it, but for the vast majority of It Has Been Done Before, you’re looking at exceptional balance in the strengths that guide each and every cut to its fruition. So while there can be an element of feeling like you’re rooted into a somewhat static moment in time, by that same token, Happy Ghosts and its guests are making sure to completely explore the depths that each song has to offer, and the diversity becomes natural. You might still be in the main gear that a track has started in energy-wise by the time that it ends, but make no mistake, there’s a ton happening in the morphing of melodies, the space in the songs, and the pairing of talents that keep each cut pumping out some kind of compelling idea, sound, or highlight at every twist and turn. It might all sound like it’s free-flowing straight off the top of their dome, but at the same time, there’s no mistaking the amount of thought that’s been put into the making of this record.
Listen to the cleverness in what you hear on “Only Love” and the way the vocals of Shannon Hurley interact with the music surrounding her…it’s basically nothing short of entirely remarkable. Like…I’m not even kidding when I say, my brain just doesn’t even work this way when it comes to melody – I couldn’t come up with what Shannon comes up with in a thousand years or a thousand songs…she’s an incredibly innovative singer and there’s no way anyone could miss that on “Only Love.” I’d imagine she’s probably getting comparisons to Imogen Heap from others out there in the scene, and I’d be inclined to agree…you can hear that level of creativity and mind-blowing technique in what she’s come up with. Like I’ve been tellin’ ya…there’s a great wealth of talent that roams throughout this album by Happy Ghosts…and while I try not to play favorites, sometimes we can’t help but have’em either based on what we hear. I’m not even necessarily saying that “Only Love” is my favorite song overall…I think there’s a very strong chance that it could be…but regardless, what I can say with certainty is that what I hear in Shannon’s vocals is purely world-class. The kind of voice that’s soothing, imaginative, colorful, sweet, bold, and unique…all at the same time – Hurley’s got an immaculate style so well-suited for her, and she’s added in a mathematically brilliant melody into the music of Happy Ghosts on “Only Love.” Lyrically, this would likely be among my favorites as well…all-in-all, this whole vibe also reminds me a lot of what I’d imagine the Wild Strawberries would have sounded like if they kept rocking in the way that they were heading on the Quiver album. Mysterious, melodic, mesmerizing…and stunningly beautiful whenever this collaborative effort chooses to infuse the sweetness into the mix…”Only Love” is a real winning combination from start to finish that has a ton of universal appeal from its music to message.
If you’re telling me you can resist the groove presented to you at the beginning of the final cut called “Imperfect World,” then I am telling YOU, that you’re made of hard granite stone and you should probably have all that checked out by a doctor sometime soon. Leza Boyland gives a solid & steady performance to this last cut, and the versatile structure & sound of Happy Ghosts once again proudly roams this way & that way in search of different combinations & artistic creations you’ve never heard. My ears appreciate the effort, and I’d wager a guess I won’t be alone in that…for all of you out there looking for MORE in the music you listen to, Happy Ghosts has created a record stockpiled with stuff that’ll be largely all-new to your ears. You might have a flash of comparisons along the way like I occasionally did myself, but for the vast majority, there’s no doubt that Happy Ghosts has made a conscious decision to go where the music takes them, wherever that may lead. Sometimes, like you hear on “Imperfect World” and this whole record overall…it’s really all about finding the right voice for the right time, or the right ingredients to make the recipe come out as tasty as it should be…you get the idea. Andrew’s done an extraordinary job of adding the right talent to the right track to create the right moment, where even as artistic as these tunes certainly are, they still feel incredibly natural and organic, completely unpretentious, vibrant, alive, and REAL. Leza puts in a stellar highlight to finish off this set on “Imperfect World” and wrap this experience up tight for its finale…I felt like I was hanging onto her every word on this last cut, and some of the stylistically slick moves she makes on the microphone shift this song’s melody into sensational moments that connect beyond words, straight to your heart & soul.
Andrew’s resume is already longer than my arm even if you printed it out on the smallest of fonts and single-spaced it on paper…but I’m thinking after listening to this new album by Happy Ghosts that this here is a man with a whole lot left in the tank, a ton of talent surrounding him all willing to lend a hand, and a long, exciting portion of his career still yet to come. I don’t think a guy like this ever stops creating as long as he’s above ground & able to, and I’d bet every experience with his latest tunes will always be memorably unique in its own way; this collaborative album is definitely a win for artistic side of sound.
Step into the sprawling and immersive world of Happy Ghosts’ new album Divergent Theories.
Since forming in 2004, South Australian band Happy Ghosts have been crafting an incredibly unique and immersive brand of boundless electronica. Their sprawling sounds will wrap around you, leaving you with a wonderful feeling of disorientation.
Now, with the release of their new album Divergent Theories, the band continue to develop their sounds into something truly memorable.
On their sprawling new album Divergent Theories, South Australian outfit Happy Ghosts weave together a catalogue of sonic textures to craft something completely immersive.
Throughout the new album, the band weave together a captivating collection of songs that build on top of one another. As layer upon layer is developed, Divergent Theories will rope you in and leave you hanging on every note.
Across its twelve-track duration, the album pulls in myriad directions. It’ll feel polished and considered at one moment, and charmingly spontaneous at the next. Divergent Theories never sits in one place for long – it’s a dynamic listening experience from start to finish.
This is the latest in an expansive string of full-length albums from Happy Ghosts, and sees the band refine their music to create something truly special. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait long to hear what they deliver next.
For now, do yourself a favour and listen to the new album.
Reverence For Life
The Happy Ghosts is the current musical vehicle for multi-instrumentalist Andrew Muecke, and this release ‘Reverence for Life’ is a collection of songs composed around Albert Schweitzer’s philosophy of the same name.
Personally, I enjoy the discovery of new horizons through music and applaud composers who seek to enlighten listeners by introducing them to new concepts that they might otherwise have never explored. For those who just want the music, this album stands on its own as a well produced collection of pop songs that are easily accessible to most listeners. Those who look for the story behind the music will enjoy this album more if they familiarize themselves with the works of Dr Schweitzer and then seek to relate the music and songs to the theory underpinning their construction.
Andrew Muecke has a long history expressed across several musical projects (refer to www.andrewmuecke.com); on this album he has written the music and lyrics and played most of the instruments on all 14 songs. In many ways this is an Andrew Muecke solo project, but with contributions from Matt Cahill (vocals on “Voices”) and Carrie Barr (vocals on the others tracks). Brother Jon Muecke also makes a cameo appearance on guitar on one track.
Opening track “Voices” evokes David Bowie of the late ’90s and serves as a bookend for the album, with the final track being a short reprise. With its catchy rhythm and Matt Cahill’s mellow vocals, this is a strong but deceptive opening, as Carrie Barr then takes over vocal duties for the rest of the album.
Most of the tracks have quite a mellow mood to them, with synthesizers, funky bass, programmed beats, flutes and sundry sound effects overlaid as the mood dictates. This is a well constructed album that does not fit into and easily defined genre. There is enough variety to ensure that the music is not repetitive, but enough consistency to ensure that each song feels like it fits. This consistency and the upbeat nature of the album’s mood reflect the Schweitzer philosophy in musical and lyric form. A joy to listen to and contemplate.
Reviewed by Phil Catley, Music SA 15 June 2012
(First ever 5-star review awarded by MusicSA!)
It’s hard these days to sort music into genres with any degree of accuracy which gives rise to the confusing phenomenon of artists being forced to label themselves with the term “experimental”. This is an understandable problem, given that sometimes your music just doesn’t fit into established or named styles. Happy Ghosts CD “Silver Lining” is not what I would call experimental but in that case, what is it? The bread-and-butter description is of a collection of 15 electronica style tracks which are mostly quite short for the genre, averaging around 3 minutes with the exception being the final track “Tuning In” at 04:26.
The CD begins with a funky, up-beat vibe with the instrumentation seeming to be live bass with electronic drums and synths plus vocal sample cut-up, and what might be an understated use of guitars here and there. The term “funk” would be the best general descriptor I could apply to this music, although there are darker, more moody moments to be found if you listen.
Tracks such as “On the Move” and “Gonna Do It” include both male and female live vocals as well as the sample cut-up which demonstrate unfortunate problems with timing, indicating possible audio recording latency which could have been addressed. Or possibly performance inaccuracy?
Overall however, the production on this album is fairly slick and nicely mixed with well-chosen ensembles that suit the very laid-back and sometimes ambient tone of the music. The sample cut-up is witty (listen to “Beautiful Homes”) without being aggressive or startling, and underpins the music rather than taking a feature role.
Most of the album is firmly anchored in major progressions with the exception of “Emergency”, my favourite track of this collection which offers a darker, less funky flavour and more in the way of a possible message. This piece also demonstrates an appropriate use of reverb which muddies up the sound nicely without destroying the intent. Noise is nice.
Another dirtier track with a slightly rockier and more bent feel is “Strange New Shape”. The tracks which most deserve the label “experimental” are probably the last 2 which leave the funky bass lines and beats at home and take the synths and guitars on holiday instead. Strange to think that those old staples the electric guitars (or simulations) can still provide the basis for the more unusual music.
When reviewing other people’s music I often come across the difficulty of analysing the intention of the artists – it’s difficult to provide a fair critique without knowing exactly what it was the creator was hoping to achieve. I don’t think that this is an album for dancing to, unless you wanted to do a slow groove around the lounge room whilst dusting the bookshelves. Neither is it music for doing yoga to, perhaps it’s somewhere in between. There is an audience for Happy Ghosts and I hope that they continue to release their music and grow with it.
Reviewed by Dorothy Pawlowski, Music SA 24 December 2008
Adelaide-based duo Andrew Muecke and Ashley Starkey (AKA Happy Ghosts) have already received local accolades for their short films and video work, with last year’s debut Secret Code of Beauty album emerging after a series of independent EP releases over the past three years. A scant year on, this follow-up effort Silver Lining sees Happy Ghosts growing in both confidence and ambition, with their eclectic fusion of dub, post-rock and downbeat electronic elements taking on new levels of depth and detail. There’s also still the creeping, yet subtle, sense of unease that pervaded this album’s predecessor, something that’s particularly brought out amidst the eerie movie samples that drift through the dubbed-out Emergency. The second time around, Happy Ghosts have managed to craft an album that nicely pushes the bar up compared to their debut effort, whilst also hinting at the new directions they could take next.
Reviewed by evilchris, 3D WORLD, 26th November, 2008
There’s something richly amusing about this experimental duo’s latest CD silver lining. Members Andrew Muecke and Ashley Starkey, ably assisted by Carrie Barr who Carries the vocals on a number of tracks, have seemingly diversified their sound by introducing elements of pop, psychedelia, tribal rhythms and grooves.
That’s right, this experimental duo have experimentally returned to the musical mainstream in what must be the safest bet this side of $10 on the sun to rise tomorrow.
Which isn’t to say that’s a bad thing. Experimental music is always in danger of sounding like a couple of meatheads who can’t play instruments, banging some rocks together and calling it music. By introducing known elements, but playing with them and presenting them in interesting ways, they’re forcing the mind to take a double take, hearing familiar sounds in unfamiliar settings.
This is probably best exemplified by Radio Stories where elements of esoteric sounds, vocal samples, funky bass jams and tape squeals intermingle and combine to great effect, a consistent, ebb and flow that resonates well, letting the mind complete the story.
Of course this doesn’t always work. Did Anything Happen sounds a bit like a stoned David Bowie impersonator, sitting about, saying what he sees like Randy Newman. That’s a rare lowlight though. Even some of the other more idiosyncratic tracks like Emergency have a driving energy throughout them that that compels, helping create a musical journey as the album progresses.
And, with the country inspired Strange New Shape, complete with Simon & Garfunkel overtones leading in to the rock balladish Goodbye Goodbye, you get a definite sense of this music leading somewhere.
This may not be for everyone but with an intelligent deconstruction of musical motifs and, most importantly, a good explication of musicianship, this is an interesting album where the few wrongs are overcome by the many rights. My one real criticism is that it doesn’t always go far enough and sometimes ends up relying on the musical modes it’s trying to reconfigure. Evocative and generally thoughtful, 3 Stars!
Reviewed by TheDon, inthemix.com.au, 6th November 2008
Secret Code of Beauty
‘Secret Code of Beauty’ is the latest LP release from local ambient-electronica producers, Andrew Muecke and Ashley Starkey, AKA Happy Ghosts. The album comprises of 10 tracks each one unique in their own way, some groovy ambient, some haunting, some just out there. ‘Secret Code of beauty’ takes you on journey that you stoner electro freaks will want to take again.
The album is an eclectic collection of samples filled in with creative vocal passages, funky bass and guitar, groovy percussion/beats and haunting strings. It is well crafted and has good continuity.
Most tracks are funky and danceable with melodic guitar motifs and trippy vocal samples and groovy beats. I liked the placement of grungy samples and the thought given to instrumentation and arrangements.
Mostly it is free flowing ambient electronica but with defined sections. I also enjoyed the occasional appearance of African percussion also piano and trumpet and some synths all us electro heads know and love. Go Reason!
The creators identify with composers such as David Sylvian, the Clash, and the Beatles but the album has a very Australian feel to it. There are also great storylines in the form of poetic lyrics and free style vocal passages, these only add to the journey. I was surprised to hear operatic vocals on track ten “Lament” a cool way to round off the album, and there is a bonus track too. Overall a unique creation from the duo.
The guys also create VJ style music videos that can be found on Myspace (www.myspace.com/happyghosts). Definitely worth a look.
The independent local act has had some recent success with video exposure on “Rage”, local radio and a review of ‘Secret Code of Beauty’ in the Sydney Morning Herald. If you like your ambient grooves check them out!
Reviewed by Dale Taylor, MUSIC SA, 29th May 2008
This pleasant diversion from ambient Adelaide duo Happy Ghosts doesn’t quite ever get airborne. Andrew Muecke and Ashley Starkey have won a host of plaudits for their EP video clips since forming three years ago and this is their first standalone audio longplayer. But you’re left with the nagging feeling we’re missing a visual accompaniment to many of these tracks.
Muecke employs an impressive range of instruments, from African-influenced percussion on Wealth & Waste to a buzzing bass on Loosen Up, while Starkey interjects with a dizzying array of sampled snatches, mixed and mashed up refracted voices from the ether.
On Young, a small boy reminisces about ice creams and sea smells, while Yes Yes Yes juxtaposes a breezy rollercoaster announcer (‘sit tight’ etc) with an ironically monotonous Latin trio. Secret Code of Beauty opens promisingly with the fuzzy guitar and sample-heavy Trouble Maker but thereafter settles a little too comfortably into a one-note ambient soundscape. The tempo gradually drops until Should Have Known, whose vibe is so laidback it could have been culled from the soundtrack to the seminal humanist film Koyaanisqatsi.
The album’s probably best experienced at a single sitting at high volume, where the tracks meld seamlessly into a multi-instrumental dreamscape. After such an eclectic series of samples, the operatic diva on the closing Lament comes as a welcome relief. It would have rounded off the LP nicely but for the addition of a brave but ill-judged cover of Bloc Partys The Prayer, which strips back the hi-energy original into a fractured breakbeat with jazzy sax, disconcertingly converting Kele Okereke’s soaring vocals into a painstakingly dour Dave Gahan-lite.
At its best (Yes Yes Yes), this could be lifted straight off Brian Eno and David Byrne’s My Life In the Bush Of Ghosts, but at its worst (Eternal Flame), its a meandering, inconsequential effort that needs the added boost of Happy Ghosts multimedia muscle.
Reviewed by Alexander Maxwell, BEAT Magazine, 6th February 2008
Ideas sustain this South Australian duo – snippets of thought, insufficient to produce a song, but sounding like Massive Attack when fused. The tunes are ambient, the sound reflecting the duo’s work on soundtracks, but there is the occasional squall of a trumpet or guitar. The music is at its best when woven from the prosaic: on Young they set the rambling lists of a child’s recount against glassy chords, while on Lament they set an opera amid the hum of cicadas.
Reviewed by Erik Jensen, Sydney Morning Heald, 1st March 2008
‘The secret is to just stick with instruments and samples’
Happy Ghosts are an instrumental duo from Adelaide who specialise in cruisy, slightly funky and ambient electronic music. The kind of thing you could play on a loop at cocktail bars of inoffensive dinner parties. Lifting samples from jazz, soul and bossa nova records, it is a surprisingly confident and listenable release. The music is slick, laid-back and well produced, but what’s with the vocals? More inane chatter than actual organized lyrics, the words spoken/mumbled by Ashley Starkey actually border on extremely annoying about halfway through the release. And sadly, it doesn’t get any better with time. I don’t care if you have the most thought provoking lyrics of all time (and trust me, Under my thumb/what does that song mean?/out of our heads! doesn’t come across as particularly deep), if you’re fishing for the note, I’ll be fishing for the fast forward button. And I bet I can get there quicker.
Reviewed by Mitch Alexander, RAVE Magazine, 6th February 2008
As much as I hate to use such a generic statement, I have to admit that the recent album from the Happy Ghosts made me, well, happy. The newest project from multi-instrumentalists Andrew Muecke and Ashley Starkey, the ‘Secret Code Of Beauty’ does not fail to please with an array of up-beat tunes and experimentation among genres.
The first three tracks – Trouble Maker, Adult Themes and Eternal Flame – each reveal a common theme of quirky, up-beat house music. Wealth & Waste ventures a little on the exotic side. By merely adding an accompanying bongo beat and a trumpet, the song transforms Muecke’s instrumental work and Starkey’s vocals into groovy jungle – works a treat.
Lament (most appropriately named) creates a real sense of ending. A gentle bass line teamed with an opera soprano belting her lungs out reminds you of those of those fantastic, yet cliched movie climaxes just before the credits – a true finale to this album.
There are, however, also some criticisms. After a good thirty-minute work out of the album, I’m feeling satisfied when suddenly – what’s this? A hidden bonus remix track of Bloc Party’s Prayer. I’m immediately a little apprehensive of Keke Okereke’s very, very British vocals in techno-beat, and although the song isn’t bad, it’s definitely no diamond in the rough.
Regardless of the Bloc Party cover, the ‘Secret Code Of Beauty’ is a great little album. It’s that style of soft alternative music that is so agreeable with all kinds of crowds that I can’t imagine anybody having issues with it.
Reviewed by Miranda Freeman, DB Magazine, Issue 389 23 Jan – 6 Feb
Local underground music exponents Andrew Muecke and Ashley Starkey, together hereon known as Happy Ghosts, have had what they deem to be quite a successful past couple of years with a wide backing from both radio and, in particular, film and video festivals as well as television show such the ABC’s ‘Rage’, where they’ve received considerable rotation.With much bigger and more ambitious plans for 2007, this talented pair of Casperites have released their third EP which not only features the lead track, Loosen Up, but a bonus three-track DVD/video compilation which includes their previous two singles, Booze And Pills and Something Beautiful.With Muecke behind the wheel musically, the visual aesthetics and voice for this well-tuned vehicle are provided by Starkey. Categorising themselves under a genre dubbed as ‘ambient alternative’, in essence, what that means is their sound is predominately electronica on the exterior with a lightly-added spritz of live instrumentation and sampling tastefully added throughout. Loosen Up is an immediate example of the post-Floyd, new age influence that breaks away from what’s expected by the simple use of guitar as a base and constant, well-measured key changes from the hypnotic electronic embellishments and mantra-like spoken refrain imbedded within.The clip uses a psychological/science-based montage as an appropriate backdrop and, having already made it as a top ten finalist in the 2006 Australian and NZ Below Ground Video Fest Awards, one could predict further attention to come.The only other new track here, Young, has a slightly heavier, percussive jazz-infused feel to it with a small boy’s recall of happier days as the narrative. Also garnering accolades are the two other video clips featured here: Booze And Pills which (by use of a rubber chimpanzee mask as a talking head) also borrows voice-overs and footage from an old 1950s educational documentary, as well as Something Beautiful which was a finalist in the worldwide ’06 Portable Film Festival. It’s the latter track that I once, upon hearing it on radio, mistook as being a possible new David Byrne number, hence further illustrating another of Happy Ghosts’ mentors.
Definitely interesting material all round, which in turn tells me that we best keep an ear to the underground because what’s bubbling beneath may soon break to the surface and take on the big guns.
Reviewed by Steve Jones, DB Magazine 7th February 2007
A specially made disc for the Canadian market (“So Far”) saw the Happy Ghosts first chart on the earShot Canadian Independent charts (no 30 on CBFX , 19 on CHUO, 8 on CHLY, 26 on CFRC, 22 on CIUT etc….). So began a very fruitful 3 year period where each Happy Ghosts release garnered excellent support and consistent charting throughout Canadian College radio.
‘Something Beautiful’ is the latest offering from local Adelaide duo Happy Ghosts. Happy Ghosts are Andrew Muecke and Ashley Starkey and together they have produced a very unique CD.
It contains four tracks of downbeat electronica all with a distinct feel and sound within the ambience of this genre. You won’t find the usual ‘verse, chorus, verse’ here, and yet the tracks all have their own solid foundation. This can be heard in the use of sequenced drums and keyboards, but it is the layering of vocals, guitar and spoken-word samples that creates the real aural experience.
Track 1, ‘Something Beautiful’, sets the scene with it’s smooth pop rhythm, looped synth chords, slap-back vocals and curious lyrics. Not to mention the expanded stereo field which places the music outside the speakers!
Track 2, ‘Four Emotions’, features guest vocalist Carrie Barr. It cruises along at a funky pace with an archetypal beat that has it’s origins in the music of West Africa. The track is the most dreamlike of the four. Carrie’s sweet multi-layered vocals drift across sustained keyboard textures. It’s almost hymn-like in it’s atmosphere.
Track 3, ‘Sharks or Skin’, is reminiscent of Happy Ghost’s earlier material with it’s seemingly random fragments of speech, set to a poppy electronic beat. It has a surreal effect especially with the chromatic ‘sirens’ in the background!
The last track, ‘Jungle Music’ at 1’54”, is more like an outro. It comes in with a cathedral organ playing a pentatonic scale, heavily reverbed with a ringing guitar. This is followed by some more curious spoken-word samples and then suddenly, it all ends……At first you just sit there, then you get up and play the whole thing again!
And that is the essence of this CD. It is something you can listen to many times over and never get bored. ‘Something Beautiful’ is a fascinating, creative and very engrossing piece of electronica.
adelaidebands.com (A.Sheerin December 2005)
The Happy Ghosts are an Adelaide based downbeat electronica duo, with an interesting angle. They don’t want to rock out, or get a floor pumping… Andrew Muecke and Ashley Starkey are producing a performance that is far more theatrical and visual than most. Their debut disc ‘Paranormal Behaviour’ throws up four tracks that manage to cover a lot of musical ground for an EP. Whimsical and shifting, it shows the world that the Happy Ghosts have the self-confidence to avoid mimicking established acts.
The album holds together in a wonderfully elastic way. There are samples peppered throughout the disc with a common source… they’re old TV and film grabs, and they look at family, and domestic life in days gone by. The samples are charming and antiquated, and create a nice crunchy contrast to the cleanly recorded instrumentation. The instrumentation is quite varied, though it would seem that Andrew speaks most eloquently through his work on guitar, and with his drum sequencing.
Further evidence of the act’s confidence is their comfortable, and recognisably Australian vocal elements. Three of the tracks feature Ashley’s voice, which has a lazy Australian drawl about it that he isn’t ashamed to hide. His vocals are often breathy, verging on whispered or spoken, and he relies on the character in his voice to make up make up for any musical imprecision.
The opening track ‘Booze & Pills’ is musically beautiful, and the samples’ cautionary notes on substance abuse and addiction are entertaining and at the same time, a little disturbing. The distorted guitar that comes in towards the end of the track brings it to a tidy climax, and it’s easy to hear why they chose this as their first video track. Unfortunately, the video is not included on the disc.
The Ideal Date’ features an unusual mix, with a bold and simple synth string line over a ultra-downbeat pseudo-trudge. I think that this and many other tracks on the CD could benefit from the replacement of Ashley’s vocals with a stronger voice, or perhaps a heavily effected one. My opinion holds for the third track, ‘Want Me’. The beds and samples for these tracks are sound, and the sunnier side of the Happy Ghosts shines through here
Saving the best for last, ‘For the Sun’ (mixed by Brett Sody) starts off with a busier beat that’s bold, dark and crisp. It sits behind layers of stuttering film samples and what sound like heavily effected, or synthesized strings. Different guitar lines come and go while spacious reverbs and drum effects give this track a greater richness than previous tracks. The only purely instrumental and sample driven track on the disc, this was the stand out for me, and left me anticipating the group’s next Happy Ghosts release.
IN THE MIX Review (Dagman, November 1, 2005)