Published May 15, 2018It's late spring and here are the Sidekicks with an album of sunny, poppy indie rock. The Ohio band are a perhaps underrated member of the Modern Baseball and Joyce Manor crowd, and their fifth album follows in the tracks of the big step they took with their Epitaph debut, Runners in the Nerved World, in 2015. The hooks are immediately infectious and the record is a triumph of cohesion, with far more depth than many of your typical summer fare.
If you liked the feel and aesthetic of Turnover's Good Nature, but maybe also found it too relaxed, Happiness Hours is for you. It revels in the summer state of mind, tinted with singer Steve Ciolek's evocative imagery of sun, flowers, birds, dancing and citrus fruit, as he reflects on what is, what was and what could have been.
Memories are specific and the storytelling selective, yet the feelings they convey are effortlessly ubiquitous. And that's where it gets interesting: The general vibe is a bit of a misdirect, since these are not really happy songs. Sunny and radiant, yes, but they also tend to be tinged with a nagging sense of sadness — much like a setting sun near the end of summer.
With its bopping verses and carefree chorus, the delightful single "Twin's Twist" is literally bittersweet, thanks to both its sentimental sound and sugary lemon-beverage theme. "Weed Tent" and "Win Affection" are breezy, pitch-perfect power pop with warm, loose harmonies. "Serpent in a Sun Drought" is wonderfully wistful, and the suddenly revved-up ending is possibly the best part of the album. "Medium in the Middle" is fast and fun as hell, destined to be a highlight of the Sidekicks' live gigs. Ciolek, meanwhile, has no reservations about reaching into the upper echelons of his vocal range, and his high-pitched harmonies do wonders for the airy atmosphere.
It's "Summer and the Magic Trick" that best summarizes Happiness Hours: "Feeling good doesn't make for feel-good songs," Ciolek sings, "but summer sang a sad one and it felt good singing along." The Sidekicks have come to us in May with an album fit for a mid-August sunset full of reminiscence and introspection — a reminder that people change and that time, like the finite days of summer, is fleeting. (Epitaph)