Circa Waves blends youthful indie sound with melancholic emotion on ‘Sad Happy’


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Grade: 4.0/5.0

Following the initial release of its EP Happy in January, English alternative band Circa Waves has released the second part to its double-sided record, Sad Happy. Capitalizing on this titular dichotomy, Circa Waves masterfully blends together upbeat tracks with pensive lyrics, lulling listeners into a dreamy and nostalgia-induced trance. 

Based in Liverpool, Circa Waves got its start in 2013. The release of the band’s first EP T-Shirt Weather in 2015 gained Circa Waves traction from the titular song, a catchy melody that perfectly captures a summer vibe. Three albums later, Sad Happy is a fresh departure from Circa Waves’ original material, staying true to its roots while experimenting with melancholic themes and sounds. 

The first seven tracks of Sad Happy comprise the happy side of the album, tying joyful melodies into light-hearted lyrics. Opening with the song “Jacqueline,” Circa Waves reestablishes the cheerful indie-pop genre it has remained true to throughout its career. With admittedly infectious rhythms, the opening track is a cheerful and upbeat summertime anthem that perfectly depicts self-discovery and the attempt to find happiness. 

Most notably, songs like “Move to San Francisco” convey the youthful sense of adventure and escapism that comes from moving “where the happy people go.” Thematically, the entire first half of the record centers around forms of teenage naivety and expression, attempting to uncover happiness amid chaos. With peppy guitar strums and strong leading vocals, the happy side of Sad Happy succeeds in creating an attention-grabbing presence that spreads bliss with catchy beats and nostalgic, ’90s inspired flair. 

“Sad Happy” then bridges the two sides of the album together, blurring the lines between each emotion. Easily one of the best tracks on the album, the peppy nature of the first half of the record persists despite somber self-reflections embedded within the song’s lyrics. As the middle track that marks the album’s split in thematic structure, “Sad Happy” is neither one emotion nor the other. Instead, it exemplifies Circa Waves’ ability to blend incredibly dark themes, such as self-hatred, with an all-encompassing, joyous sound. 

The sad side of Sad Happy is the superior aspect of the album. Straying away from Circa Waves’ other tracks, this side of the record delves into deeper material that is utterly entrancing and surprisingly nostalgic. One of the last songs on the album, “Train to Lime Street,” is a perfect example of this. With no lyrics, the instrumentation takes hold of the song, forcing the album to take a pause from the hectic, joyful nature it previously presents. Trains rattling down the tracks, women laughing and soft synth sounds come together to create an emotional yet relaxing experience for listeners. Somehow evoking a rather poignant response, this song forces self-reflection; listeners must take a collective breath with the album as it moves to its final track. 

Sad Happy ends with its most emotional and nostalgic track: “Birthday Cake.” Following the delicate instrumentation of “Train to Lime Street,” this song completes the album with a mellow yet extremely intimate reflection of Circa Waves’ growth. With drawn-out, forlorn beats and somber lyrics, Circa Waves brings forth its most transparently personal track to date. Pent-up anxiety and indecision manifest throughout the song, battling happy recollections of the past with sad apprehensions about the future. This scrapbook of nostalgia exemplifies the larger purpose of the album with lyrics such as “Who will care when we go?” Complete with deep, reminiscent thoughts, the conclusion of the album feels packed with the empty, unknown existence of the future, moving on from the simplicity of child-like ease. 

 The euphoric feeling of basking in the summer sun, road-tripping across the country and looking back on memories from childhood all encapsulate Circa Waves’ Sad Happy. Blending together happy melodies with melancholic lyrics, Circa Waves ponders how one understands emotions that seem to be almost indistinguishable. While the album stays true to Circa Waves’ classic summertime anthems, Sad Happy displays the band’s mature departure into richer material, contradicting the happy nature that Circa Waves’ music traditionally exudes. 

Contact Sarah Runyan at [email protected].