Toronto duo, Fast Romantics, traverse a new soundscape of sea change with their newest album, Happiness + Euphoria.
The new album from Fast Romantics is divided into two sides, leaning into the duality of Matthew Angus and Kirty – partners on and off stage, with 10 fantastical songs, masterfully crafted and equally and intentionally split into two distinct sides. Side “Euphoria,” was mixed by Los Angeles-based producer Dave Schiffman (The Killers, Haim) and is busting with jubilant pop anthems, as electric as ever and teeming with a renewed sense of self and purpose. Side “Happiness” was mixed by Marcus Paquin (The National, Arcade Fire) and is a lush, beautiful, lyrical collection of songs stirring up Angus’ most personal explorations to date.
“The decision to let the album have this polarity, with two contrasting sides… it was more a reaction to what we realized these songs were about,” said Angus. “I think there are little slices of euphoria in every ideation of happiness, and little slivers of happiness in every euphoric experience. But the two emotions almost oppose each other at times, and then they kind of blur together. A lot of this album is just me trying to figure out what the two words even mean. Like so many of us, I’m always searching for meaning in all of the dumbest places… in careers, in pill bottles, in bedrooms, in wallets, in mirrors. I think that search over the last five years ended up defining these ten songs, and that’s why we picked them.”
The side “Euphoria” opening track “Outta Love” starts off strong with heart pounding drums blanketed in lush, pillowy guitars and ambient textures. The lyrics hit harder with “Beautiful disaster; Swimmin’ naked in the cheap chardonnay; Happy ever after; ’til you slept with all my friends and drove your car on my brain” Repeating the chorus “We’re falling outta love to feel alive” and “Just wanna feel alright alright alright alright” with every “alright” punctuated differently, as if to beg the question, or ask for permission to feel alright, alright?!?
Track two, and first-half title track “Euphoria” swells into a sneaky-sounding driving beat, almost like a spy-thriller, but this secret agent isn’t looking for a microfilm or world-ending weapon; they’re looking for euphoria. The main riff notes in the hook climb up the A Major scale, only to land down below the initial A onto an F# minor, almost hinting at an emotional climb that ends with a sudden drop that feels like a personal set back. The second time the riff is played, it lands back at the A, and even though it ultimately resolves to an A Major, it still feels like taking three steps forward and two steps back, at least on a personal journey level. The song itself is a beautifully crafted piece of pop, with Angus’ whispery vocals inviting you on a hunt for euphoria.
Track three is a standout, reminiscent of 80’s synth pop, but very catchy and bombastic. Simply titled “F**k Yourself”, this hooky ear worm is a head bobber, just as anthemic as it is sincere. If The Talking Heads made love to a snide folk-punk rocker, this song would be their offspring; littered with big bad wolf energy. I had to play to this song again and again after my initial listen, as it became an instant favorite! Not sure what that says about me, but I know what it says about this song: “it rules.”
Tracks four and five, “Born in Space” and “Smoke + Lightning”, take layers to the next level. “Born in Space” is a Bowie-esque rock spectacular, full of sweeping melodies and a beautifully arranged harmonies. The drums and guitars fill out the already very heavy song with an almost late-Alkaline Trio pseudo-gothic pop vibe. “Smoke + Lightning” features Kirty on lead vocals, and it’s a hauntingly epic pop gem. The synth strings are strong with this one, and like the force, there’s a light side and a dark side. Both sides shine through in a manic juxtaposition of bliss and sorrow. The ending of the song repeats “When you die you don’t really die”, leaving you with an awareness of the void inside all of us… or maybe that’s just me?
Matthew Angus of Fast Romantics also shares some insight into the challenges of getting this new record to the finish line – an album the band feel is their best to date, and the health issues keeping this perpetually performing group, sadly, sidelined for the foreseeable future…
“The last few years as we prepared to put this record out, it felt like the world kept trying to crush us. I kept finding new holes in the boat, and I only had so many fingers. The pandemic definitely started the flood. A lot of our Fast Romantics band members made life changes and left the group, and as we worked to rebuilt the band to prep for tours around the album, even weirder shit started to happen. I started dealing with a barrage of strange health problems — both mental and physical. Every time I managed to get myself mentally sound, the body would give out in a new way, and then again after that, the mind. And, just as we were preparing to announce a fully booked summer and fall tour, I got diagnosed with ‘Patulous Eustachian Tube’ – which basically means I hear my own voice vibrating so loud in one of my ears that it makes it impossible to sing at all. It turns out I’d been dealing with it for longer than I’d realized, with my voice getting worse and worse as it progressed, just added to my frustration. At that point, we cancelled the tour, but decided to put the singles and the record out as planned, as I focused on my health for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, us not being active out there on the road means less people are hearing the music, and that’s been tough to accept.”
The side “Happiness” opens with the song “Hold On, Let It Go”, balanced with horns, radio wave sound effects, and Brian May-esque guitar lines, this song is very downtempo, almost a drunk sea chantey, yet hopeful and optimistic. “If you don’t hold on, you can’t let it go” reminding us to trudge through the bad times, lest we find ourselves stuck in the muck, frozen by fear, doubt, or pain. It’s the perfect lead-in to the next track, and the album’s second-half title-track “Happiness”.
There’s something almost Tom Jones-y about this song. ‘Happiness’ speaks of tears, fears, blood, scars and whoas… “But I’m a happy man”. This seems like a good time to talk about a theme that is consistently sprinkled throughout this entire record… Death. There are so many lines that mention dying, death, how we’re all going to die, “everybody I love is gonna die someday; and all they leave behind is happiness”. No doubt Angus is reflecting on their recent health scares, and existential crises; which have plagued a lot of us in the covid times, and continue to be a strain for so so many.
Tracks eight, nine, & ten; “Sea of Electrons”, “What’s in a Name?”, and “Mexico”, each have something unique and enjoyable to offer. Ranging from power-pop to ballad to experimental, there’s something hypnotic about the flow of these last three. You’re being gently pulled along on a journey, simply as an observer, yet by the end of the album, you feel like a participant. It’s emotional, endearing, honest, and tragic, all at once… And such is life.
The entire album is a phenomenal triumph, and a masterclass in song-craft, mood, and texturally balanced music.
“The album was produced by Angus, but he and Kirty also undertook a unique approach to making a record. Later in the process, they connected with three close creative confidants to form what Angus called their “song senate” to bring additional production. It consisted of longtime collaborator Marcus Paquin, as well as two other key collaborators: their previous producer Gus Van Go (Metric, The Stills, Arkells), and the frontman/producer of celebrated band The Dears, Murray Lightburn.
“It was important to me that we brought in friends we trusted who could call bullshit on those moments when I was getting too indulgent or stuck,” Angus said, adding sheepishly, “I’ll admit that happens quite often. Those three saved my ass.” Nick McKinlay and Jeffrey Lewis — longtime members of the band — also played key roles in defining the arrangements.”
Derek Evry, a prominent singer/songwriter in his own right, has been a recurring guest on podcasts such as Cover to Cover with Matt Tarka, The Circus Life, DC Music Rocks, and Merlin Public Media. His unique perspective is reflected through entertainment journalism and by hosting his own productions, such as “MONDAY NIGHT MAYHEM.”
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