The Shermans – Happiness is Toy-Shaped

The Shermans
Happiness is Toy-Shaped

Several months ago I came to the realization that Sweden is a country with two musical personalities. On one hand, the depressing climate made it a breeding ground for grinding death metal. But, intuitively, the culture that brought us IKEA has a happier side (enter ABBA) that veritably defines the face of Euro-pop. The IKEA-ism of Sweden imbues their newest pop bands with a bright, simple, and clean attitude. Granted, the groups all tend to sound pretty similar, but they are pure aural joy, and the Shermans are one such collection of artists that sing pop songs in English with really distinctive and cute accents.
The Shermans were formed in 1997 by Mikael Matsson (of Red Sleeping Beauty) and were released in a wide variety of places mostly a song or two at a time via comp appearances and 7″ singles. During this period, the group lost their first vocalist and recruited a new one, Ingela Karlsson (now Matsson after a presumed love connection). In early 2000, the Shermans released a collection of all of their early work and then quickly signed to the Shelflife label and released their first US full-length, In Technicolor. Now Shelflife brings us another delicious Shermans release, Happiness is Toy-Shaped.
The tone is immediately set for the release with the first track “Boy With the Bright Eyes” that falls into the songs-about-crushes category. It doesn’t stand apart on this release that has its fair share of love songs. But, there is nothing trite about the record, which still has its share of bitterness. Remarkably, though, every sentiment is delivered with such poppy joy that it is easy to forget that the sad songs aren’t happy songs. Witness tracks like “Lousy Judge of Character” where Ingela croons “you are an utter waste of time” or perhaps “July in London” (about a doomed long-distance relationship), which includes the depressing chorus “I didn’t want to spend another holiday with you.” Regardless of the content, each track is a complete gem, singable to the end and uplifting to partake of.
Everything about this album is sweet and enjoyable. From the Jill Bliss designed packaging (she seems to work with Shelflife on a pretty regular basis) to the perfect piano and sugary vocals on each and every track. When much indie-pop music comes off as a pretentious exercise in ironically resurrecting the Beach Boys or Motown-esque girl groups, it is refreshing to witness the Shermans’ level of sincerity and true commitment to the craft of making pop songs purely for love of the music.