Happy Ghosts – It Has Been Done Before – Album Review
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.
Find out more about Happy Ghosts at: https://www.andrewmuecke.com
Find out what we do at sleepingbagstudios, and be the next to be featured on our pages by clicking here!