Album review: Superhuman Happiness occupies new sonic space, retains emotional delivery with ‘Escape Velocity’

Superhuman Happiness albumSuperhuman Happiness delivers an emotionally complex sophomore album in “Escape Velocity” that looks to understand people’s connection to the world through the lens of its impassioned rhythms.

The band is led by the forward-thinking Stuart Bogie, a Brooklyn-based arranger, performer and songwriter who has worked with Arcade Fire, David Byrne, Iron & Wine, TV On The Radio and Antibalas. With its first album, “Hands,” the band created music that made bodies move with primal intuitiveness. With crisp drumming, soaring choruses, jubilant rhythm and elastic horns, Superhuman Happiness’ music is dance music for people who can’t relate to the electronic glitches and beats of EDM and DJs. It’s music so engaging that it moves people as much emotionally as it does physically, and continues to do so on the band’s latest. But where its first album was a joyous late-night party with close friends, “Escape Velocity” is the day after, dealing with the hangover in an introspective daze of doubt and reflection.

Superhuman Happiness Escape VelocityFrom the very beginning, you get a sense of the party being over with the heady funk of “VHS.” The track slides on a minimalist, synth beat that is enlivened with bright horns that punch in time with the guitar. It is reserved and taut, as if a great weight hangs on the song’s shoulders, the lyrics wrestling with how technology can warp our sense of meaning. The outro twirls around melancholic violin and reveals a more vulnerable side of the band that finds solace in creating its own cocoon and resting in the calm inside.

The reflective tone is continued in the nest songs “Middle Ground” and “Super 8.” The former, cold and brooding with lush synths, speaks of the intertwined relationship between beginning and end: “birth and death/ a wreath around your chest.” The later punches right through the overcast clouds with a blast of kinetic energy. The song’s buoyant back-and-forth verses muse how “the memory alters when it’s shaped by the lens,” and continues to warp the mind with a fractured, middle jam that deflects horns and synths in a number of different directions.

The wonderful aspect about this album is that the band was able to occupy a different sonic space than its previous album without losing the emotional core of its songs. Slowing down on “Escape Velocity” could have left the album feeling depleted of energy, but the band always is moving in an interesting direction. The musicians are still playing together, bouncing textures off each other, creating undeniable rhythms and searching for emotional clarity.

Still wrestling with problems of human connection, the art-rock disco of “Date & Time” addresses the worry that “we’re going nowhere clicking on those pretty pictures.” Not until the pleasant funk of “Drawing Lines” does the band really break out into a joyous rhythm. The song’s pleasant demeanor is tied to the realization that to combat the distortions of technology, one must revel in things that can be touched and held, a tactile connection to the world. The song bounces around euphorically with bubbling horns, cascading drums and a catchy toy-piano hook and that cannot be denied, one of the most infectious in Superhuman Happiness’ catalog.

From beginning to end, “Escape Velocity” propels us into the depths of the human condition and asks us to lean into the internal complexities of our lives, providing us with the emotional rhythms of Superhuman Happiness to help navigate the way.

  • Superhuman Happiness
    “Escape Velocity”
    Release: Sept. 19, 2015
    Notable Songs: “VHS,” “Super 8,” ‘Drawing Lines”
    Purchase: LINK

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