On their debut album, Corners, indie band HAP possesses a wonderfully cheerful quality, which shines through in guitarist and lead vocalist Ned Porter’s bubbly streams of consciousness and even more so in the band’s quirky, carnivalesque arrangements. From a songwriting perspective, HAP owes a significant debt to 1960s pop, but it’s safe to say no British invasion bands sounded quite like this.
Members Sam Smith (guitar/piano), Stephen Yell (drums/percussion), and Evan Becker (bass) all contribute something unique to HAP’s sound, an appealing amalgam of traditional instruments and electronic bells and whistles. On standout track “Shopping the Collection,” synthesizers that one might expect to find in arcade games mingle freely with guitar chords, yielding an organic blend of the new and the familiar. There’s also more than a hint of XTC’s critically-adored but commercially underrated 1986 release Skylarking lurking in this and other tracks, albeit with a thoroughly modern feel. A bevy of unexpected sounds fill out the band’s sound in a way that feels essential and never superfluous, an essential component of HAP’s identity.
As if to highlight the congruity of influences new and old, HAP turn to what they affectionately refer to as their fifth band member: an antique radio known as the “the Admiral.” Although it does not own a ship and is probably not fond of being dunked in water, the old workhorse, a constant presence on stage at HAP’s concerts that also functions as the band’s logo, endows each song with an endearing vocabulary of bleeps, bloops and other noises that could come from an old game system. Those who doubt that an old-fashioned radio could possibly accomplish so much are onto something: there is far more to the Admiral than meets the eye. Its sounds are in fact programmed by the band members into a lightbox resting in its metallic core.
There might be other ways to replicate the Admiral’s distinctive warble, but they are not known to this critic. As it stands, the precocious radio is a testament to the band’s artistic vision, one that encompasses old classics like the Kinks just as effectively as new favorites like the Animal Collective. In an indie rock culture singularly obsessed with all things “retro,” the Admiral is a brilliant bit of iconography and ultimately makes for a far more striking onstage companion than a laptop.
None of this is to say that the musicians of HAP are less than impressive in their own right. Take the Admiral out of the picture, and the songs still boast formidable musicianship and songcraft. However, HAP is less about showcasing the talents of each individual member and more about fostering a mood from the sum of its parts. As rewarding as it is to absorb the intricacies of HAP’s layered production, theirs is not purely cerebral music.
Listening to tracks like “Shopping the Collection,” it’s impossible not to feel the urge to get up and move. Like Dan Deacon, HAP provokes a feeling of effervescent joy that lends itself well to dancing while also providing enough nuance to reward repeated listening on a pair of headphones. In other words, this is the kind of music that’s as invigorating in the moment as it is rewarding to have on your playlist for the long haul.