Album review: happysad’s ‘Ciało Obce’ lives up to the hype

If you’ve ever tuned into Polish radio before, chances are you may have already heard at least one of their songs. happysad’s [sic] most commercial single, “Zanim Pójdę” (“Before I Go”) has been both a blessing and a curse. The song is the second track off their debut album, Wszystko Jedno (Whatever), an eclectic mesh of punk and ska melodies complemented by lyrics that exude just the right amount of angst. Though the song has gained the most airplay on popular radio stations and has even made happysad somewhat of a household name, it isn’t the most accurate or fair representation of the men and artists they are today.

The band has just released their seventh studio album under the title Ciało Obce. Its translation into English (Foreign Object or Strange Body), as well as one’s interpretation of the album itself, is open to debate. Prior to its release in early February, the band created a tremendous amount of buzz surrounding the album by teasing fans with promos and clips of music videos featuring the three singles “Nadzy Na Mróz” (“Naked in the Frost”), “Dłoń” (“Hand”), and “Heroina” (“Heroin”). The music videos, shot in a rustic barn, set the ambiance for the album and are worth checking out for their cinematography alone.

Being a happysad fan myself, I was wary, afraid even, of whether the album would live up to its hype. And yet happysad succeeds at what many globally renowned rock bands fail to do (I’m looking at you Coldplay!), finding the balance between remaining relevant in today’s industry while producing music that is true to one’s artistic integrity and vision.

Ciało Obce, a concept album of sorts, is for happysad what Sgt. Pepper’s was for The Beatles. The songs segue into one another with natural ease, though not always chronologically, and skilfully navigate from one extreme to another. The album opens with a stripped down ballad with lead singer Kuba Kawalec crooning over a ukulele. Before the listener has time to get lost in the sentiment of the track’s lyrics and vinyl like resonance, they are thrown into musical chaos at its finest.

“Dłoń,” though off-putting at first, is sure to be a crowd-pleaser and is the ultimate jam session, featuring hard-hitting drums, uptempo guitar riffs, rhythmic bass and, wait for it… a saxophone! Does it get any better than that?

Yes… Track 3 slows it all down only to build it up again… and so on and so forth. If tantric sex were an album, this would be it. It’s that boyfriend who makes you feel like you’re on top of the world only to keep you on edge when he doesn’t call you for a week. It’s the warm rush of a high along with its inevitable come-down.

That might be the reason why the single “Heroina” is shaping up to be a favorite among fans. After another guitar heavy grunge-esque track, we downshift into Kawalec singing, this time over a piano, with the same lyric zasnąć (fall asleep) being breathlessly repeated over the vocals in a harmony reminiscent of Air’s “Sexy Boy.” The song picks up and climaxes into a saxophone solo that gives Hendrix a run for his money.

If happysad’s music doesn’t do it for you alone, their lyrics will. And if you don’t understand Polish, they’re your incentive to learn. happysad’s lyrics have always been romantically poetic and at times just plain erotic (think Conor Oberst meets Leonard Cohen meets Prince), and “Nadzy na Mróz” is no exception to that rule. The lyrics are as strong as ever, but the group has graduated from singing about unrequited love and heartache. Ciało Obce is more of an existential crisis than it is a simple break up album with lyrics such as “Will the world even exist when our suns die out?” or “And the worst is when I try to be myself.” Heavy stuff, man.

And just like Sgt. Pepper’s, Ciało Obce has many fans divided over the new direction happysad has embarked on. However, the fans that have been with the band since the start of their career are more than happy to see them develop and mature as musicians. These fans, who were once lovesick rebels themselves, are now adults, working professionals, husbands, wives, parents, etc. Their reality has changed and correlates with the theme that Ciało Obce conveys.

Others complain that the album is too gloomy, but I chalk that up to the fact that these may be issues some haven’t had to grapple with yet and thus can’t relate to. Also, looking back on happysad’s extensive discography, the band has never been afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves, and it isn’t difficult to find a little bit of melancholia on each of their albums. One notable difference, however, is the fact that the band is not afraid to experiment with different musical genres, effects, and instruments when composing their music and does so with confidence, a result of their musical maturity and experience as well as the influence the two younger members of the band have brought to the table.

If I still haven’t been able to convince you to go out and buy the album as soon as possible, there’s nothing left to do but see them in action. Suffice it to say, they are amazing. I’ve seen a lot of bands perform in my day, some big and some small, but these guys really know their stuff. By complete chance, I was fortunate enough to hear happysad play at a local festival two years ago and was utterly blown away. I was there under the pretext to see The Offspring play but mostly drink beer, and it was the first time in my life I witnessed a “local” supporting band outshine the headliner of a major musical festival. A Polish band nonetheless! A proud moment for the patriot in me, that particular performance put happysad on the list of my top five favorite bands, and since then I’ve never missed an opportunity to see them perform live.

Luckily, the band doesn’t take too much time off to rest and has just kicked off their nation wide tour promoting their newest album. You can catch them on March 25th at Klub Studencki Kwadrat (ul. Stanisława Skarżyńskiego 1). Ciało Obce is available at shops across the country as well as through Mystic Production.

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