Quality: 3.75 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 3.25 out of 5
Getting into popular world music is often a slippery slope. Of course you can always track down traditional and/or folk sounds and at least appreciate it. With popular world music, however, I feel musicians tend to take one of two routes. Most artists latch on to the sounds of best-selling American and British artists and copy it. Unfortunately, this falls victim to the law of diminishing returns, and woe to our ears for the artist that is using bad western pop as their template. Restoring my faith in humanity are the more select artist who still may use western popular music as their basis, but really try to incorporate something new and/or distinct from their culture.
Happy End is not one of the best bands I've heard, but they deserve some respect. In the 60's, Japanese rock tended to consist of instrumental 'surf' style bands and folks covering western rock songs or trying to write their own in often broken English (those wanting Japanese lyrics had to turn to the ultra-melodramatic Japanese pop called 'enka'). Happy End did draw a lot from light psych bands and sunshine pop in the west, but they carved out their own unique sound with some interesting production touches and sang completely in Japanese, often drawing their melodies from native folk ideas.
This debut is a solid psych/folk groover, with the band creating their own spacey atmosphere rather confidently. The disc starts well with the catchy "Haruyo Koi," but I think they saved their better material for the midsection of the album. The backwards swishes of "Tobenai Sora" signal a shift into more experimentation and stylistic shifts. This and the three following tracks could have made a perfect sundrenched Japanese psych EP. The band's eponymous track near the end is another folky winner starting of like Appalachian porch music in the middle of the Japanese Alps before shifting into a groovy marching rhythm. This runs into the weirdly experimental "Zoku Happyend," which closes the album.
For me, the big hook for this band is Takashi Matsumoto's vocals. Often coming as a double-tracked wall, Matsumoto usually sings in sort of a strange dispassionate tone. Yet, the emotions of the song still come through, even with a language barrier in place for non Japanese-speaking listeners. It's as if he is able to suggest emotion rather than express it.
While not the best psych album you'll ever hear, Happy End is a nice comfortable 36 minutes that is a distinctly different flavor from more western sounds and certainly worth a little of your time.
Happy End - 1970 - Happy End