Elemae – Popular Misconceptions of Happiness

Popular Misconceptions of Happiness

This album challenged me more than any album I’ve heard in the last six months. That’s not to say I liked this the most out of all the album I’ve heard in six months (that’s not true), but it definitely has made me think the most. Popular Misconceptions of Happiness is a thought-provoking record because it challenges my idea that a good album is an album with an established sound, good flow, and album-wide aesthetics. Elemae has none of those three elements on this album, and yet, it’s still a great release.

But how can an album that has ambient songs, country experiments, indie-pop diatribes, indie-rock digressions, punk songs, emo songs, classic rock songs, and just plain modern rock songs be considered good at all? Well, if each genre is done as brilliantly as the next… The folks in Elemae knew they were doing this, too; their art reflects it. They have a camera on the front, and the rest of the art is a collage of tons and tons of pictures. They’re not building a cohesive theme anywhere, they’re reveling in the fact that nothing needs to be perfect to be great.

Elemae busts out of the gate with a charging modern-rock ditty entitled “Sleeping With Adrenaline.” I wasn’t very impressed. Next, “Dissapointment Book” is a virtual tribute to mid-90s rock bands like Live, and while that’s usually a bad comparison, this song is great and gave me some more hope for the album. Just when I was about to label Elemae a modern-rock band, they drop “Soulsweeper,” a piece of classic-rock fury complete with organ backdrop. I’m not even kidding.

The eclecticism gets better: “Worthwhile” is a mid-tempo emo stomp in the vein of Thursday and Noise Ratchet. “Happily Cinematic” bookends that electric performance with (get this) an instrumental ambient piece. What makes “Happily Cinematic” even more amazing is that it’s not only decent, it’s the best track here. The guitars have life, the drums accompany perfectly, and by the middle of the song they’re expressing a unique voice in ambient rock (think Unwed Sailor, except with better keys). I could listen to that track over and over, but by this point I was wondering what other genres Elemae was going to hurl at me, so I kept moving.

“Kamikaze” is an indie-rock song that revels in restraint; “Soapbox Podium” is a mathy take on modern rock that blows the earlier attempt out of the water. You can guess which genre “Country Pink” is, and the most American of all genres is fleshed out in all its glory, with an acoustic guitar, sparse piano, somber vocals, and brushed drumming. By this point, I had the feeling that no genre is outside of Elemae’s vast reach, so when the charming, bubbly indie-pop of “To Heel the Sole” appeared, I wasn’t surprised. Neither was I shocked when “The Fall of Summer” gave the album a somber, beautiful acoustic note. The only tracks here that aren’t in a genre of their own are the hard-rocking “End a Year” and the outro to the album, which reprises the band’s love of classic rock.

This album, aesthetically speaking, is a mess – a horribly uncohesive, herky-jerky piece of chaos that can’t decide what it wants to be. This album is also brilliant, when songwriting is considered, because all of these songs here are excellent songs – they just have utterly no flow. Not one of their genre experiments falls flat in any way; the vocals are consistently good, the lyrics are consistently strong, and the band always knows what it is doing. In fact, Popular Misconceptions of Happiness stretches my boundaries as to what is considered a good album, and isn’t that what the best albums do?