Camp Susannah,
Happy Today
(Bunnyhead, 2004)

Any album that makes much use of recording tricks and overlay tracks runs the risk of sounding overproduced, too cold or just indefinably distant. Camp Susannah's Happy Today is a blatantly engineered album, every track layered onto, over, around and through itself. It is, at times, cold, distant, even alien. And it is always powerful.

The mechanical distance created by heavy studio tinkering makes for an intriguing emotional dissonance with the flatly stated cheer of Happy Today. Every doubt and trouble that shows itself in Camp Susannah's songs is answered with defiant optimism and an insistence on enjoying the moment. It's an unflaggingly sweet message, with even the saddest songs only carrying a touch of regret. But that confident message, delivered with lead singer Susannah Blinkoff's soft, almost shy voice in the echoing open spaces of her arrangements, often takes on a strange melancholy. With the emotional chill of the music canceling the bright cheer of the lyrics, "Happy Today" has the haunting feel of a lonely child's lullaby to herself. "Talkin' to Myself," which adds a touch of self consciousness to Susannah's usual positive talk, is the perfect song to hum before a job interview or whistle through the graveyard of your choice.

Happy Today loses some of its alien qualities in the songs that engage more of the world than one narrator. "Too Small" is a straightforward giddy love song, an exultation in the limiting powers of language with cheerful pop attitude. "Catch Me," a direct bit of sass and rejection of the doomed pursuer, feels as abrupt as a slap in the face in the middle of this soft-edged album. The single most despairing track, "We Were Gonna Be," focuses on the aftermath of a breakup with obsessive confusion and a tune with the dark warmth of shame. But even in these most common, easily shared moments, the songs clearly come from one specific mind. That sense of near familiarity combined with the exclusive distance of individual experience, makes these simple songs the strangest of the album.

Happy Today is a compelling study in contrasts. A distant and deeply personal album, it makes use of electronic manipulation to achieve more human resonance. The lyrics rely on simplicity to portray the most complicated moments. Distant and deeply personal, Happy Today is a comforting, haunting, endearing album.

by Sarah Meador
11 March 2006

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