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  More Than Happy  
  The Layaways  
  Mystery Farm  
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Every now and then I have a get together at my house for my friends and acquaintances. Being the music geek I am, I like to have something on the stereo as background noise during these events. Of course, with a party going on, you don't want to put on anything distracting in either a good or bad way. And More Than Happy, the first release by Chicago-based The Layaways perfectly fits the bill.

The Layaways are really David Harrell, who played most of the instruments and wrote all of the songs on More Than Happy. This single-minded vision gives a uniformity to the 12 songs on the album, which can be accurately described as slightly-retro alterna/Indie-pop (in which the alternative label harkens back to the late-1980s). For instance, the second song, Let Me In, begins with a little dark feedback, a la The Jesus and Mary Chain circa Darklands, before moving into a catchy, sing-along chorus. With the synchronization between the vocal melody and guitar line, it feels summery and happy. Likewise, Ocean Blue also has a pop sensibility that recalls the 1980s, although this time I am reminded of little-known British group The Dream Academy, best known for their 1985 single, Life in A Northern Town. This comparison is mainly due to David Harrell's vocals, which are fairly breathy and ethereal, as opposed to a typical Indie-rock sneer/whine. However, the fairly minimalist instrumentation and almost baroque arrangements on some of the songs (including Ocean Blue) also further flesh out the comparison to The Dream Academy.

In contrast, other songs on More Than Happy appear to have more recent roots. As an example, Touch the Sky begins with effects that wouldn't be out of place on an album by Atlanta's The Silent Kids. The song starts earnestly, and its structure has a retro-psychedelic feel that's rather reminiscent of a band like Olivia Tremor Control. I Was Wrong also has a similar sound, and wouldn't be out of place if it were performed by any number of recent Athens, GA, bands, including The Possibilities.

But this is, perhaps, the problem with More Than Happy. Although all of the songs are well-executed and nicely structured, none of the songs stand out in their own right as something that you can point to and say, "This is The Layaways' sound." Instead, everything recalls music that has come before. Of course, as a clarification on this statement, nothing on More Than Happy is atrocious or catches the listener's attention in a negative light either. This consistency is the reason I called this a good album for parties. The songs as a whole are accessible and vaguely familiar and, in the background, it all sounds pleasant enough. In fact, I suspect, people with a variety of musical tastes would find it enjoyable, although not necessarily compelling.

As a last note, apparently More Than Happy was recorded at home on an eight-track by Harrell. This lo-fi nature isn't all that apparent in the mixing, which manages to blend the percussion, guitars, and vocals in a nicely layered way. The only time that it becomes apparent that this is one person's brainchild is during the occasional guitar solos, which are mixed rather loudly in comparison to the rest of the music. Otherwise, More Than Happy is on the whole nicely produced, which bodes well for Harrell's future recordings.

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