Optimistic record made in the face of hard times
Blaenavon return with their sophomore album Everything That Makes You Happy. Created in tough period during frontman Ben Gregory’s rehabilitation from a ‘stress related breakdown’ the album focuses on the singer’s struggles with mental health as well as Gregory’s recent break-up.
ETMYH features brighter, more widescreen production than the band’s debut That’s Your Lot, with gorgeous string sections tracking multiple songs here including album highlight, and current single, ‘I Want You’. This use of strings, combined with the production and the more prominent use of piano on the record, leads to an album which sounds warm and lush, leading to an optimistic tone throughout the album, despite the prevailing lyrical themes. Battles with mental health are discussed from the perspective of someone who has come out of the other side, looking back on the singer’s self-proclaimed worst year of his life. “Sanity’s calling, he knows I’m sitting proud up on the edge,” Gregory cries on ‘The Song’s Never Gonna Be the Same’.
Gregory’s soothing falsetto takes centre stage throughout most of the album, with the singer’s talent of transforming the more basic instrumentals into beautiful songs once more shining through especially on ‘Quiet in your Heart / Alone in Love’.
On the majority of tracks there are minimalist contributions on drums and bass from fellow bandmates Harris Mcmillan and Frank Wright, respectively. There are far fewer instrumental breaks than the band’s previous work, leading to an album where the songs tend to have most focus on the frontman’s lyrics.
Despite the lyrical focus of the album, the standout tracks here are the ones with the most sonic variation. Lead single ‘Catatonic Skinbag’ shines with anthemic chorus and heavy lead guitar joining forces to create the most energetic song the band have ever produced. While title track closer Everything That Makes You Happy sees Gregory brood about pre-conceived notions happiness and questions when it will arrive for him. “Happiness is coming – look busy.”
The track evolves from a stripped back folk style song, until a guitar driven frantic second half comes in. This shift in tone is dramatic and dynamic, which makes for a brilliant end to the album.
Unfortunately, a lack of these more exuberant cuts causes the album to drag around the second half, with Gregory’s prosaic style lyrics not always backed up by memorable melodies. The aforementioned lack of hooks, combined with the stripped-back instrumentals causes some songs to be more forgettable than the band would’ve hoped for. ‘I Want You’, a mournful beautiful single about the singer’s breakup, is easily the catchiest song on show, and shows what stunning songs the band can produce when in their best form.
Overall, the album shows significant musical growth from their first record and is an enjoyable listen, with enough talent on show to warrant repeat listens. On ETMYH Blaenavon have successfully created something positive out of a turbulent time for the band, and for this they should be commended.
Words: Matt Hives