Following the release last year of their short but incredibly sweet self-titled EP, Grouplove became one of 2011's most genuinely exciting prospects. Grouplove was packed to the gunwales with charm-your-pants-off midsummer glee, with its Modest Mouse-esque sounds drenched in more sun than the Sahara. So, with our appetites duly whet, the Californian quintet returns with a full-length release that quite literally recycles the acmes of their EP: "Colours" and "Naked Kids" return untouched and unchanged, while the remaining 10 tracks suggest the band may be a one-trick pony.
And while that trick may be a spectacular one, it's difficult not to feel short-changed by Never Trust a Happy Song. Where the EP was a filler-less romp of the highest order, the LP is full of frustrating stops and starts. The album opens very strongly with the unashamedly anthemic "Itchin' on a Photograph" (handclaps, shrill shout-along refrains, and all), only to be followed by two lackluster numbers, "Tongue Tied" and "Lovely Cup," that all but completely derail the momentum. And after the still-rousing "Colours" has kickstarted the party for a second time, we're left with "Slow," a foggy, disjointed ditty that exists in sonic limbo. Unfortunately, this isn't merely a case of poor sequencing, but one of subpar songwriting.
Never Trust a Happy Song's finer moments arrive when Grouplove is crafting sun-kissed anthems that deserve to be blared across beaches or, at least, from the speakers of any open-top car en route to the shore. When Christian Zucconi is howling like Isaac Brock over swirling guitar parts and impassioned drum beats that never show any sign of relenting, something clicks, and on the aforementioned album opener, the feverish curtain call "Close Your Eyes and Count to Ten," and especially on "Colours," the band shows they have a real knack for boisterous pop jaunts.
It's rare for Grouplove to strike gold away from their business-as-usual approach though. "Cruel and Beautiful World," an enchanting track which finds Zucconi and girlfriend Hannah Hooper sharing beautiful harmonies atop an alluring ukulele melody, hints that there may eventually be more to Grouplove than giddy straw-hat sing-alongs, but for the most part it feels as though the new territory they're trying to explore is, at least for now, best left uncharted while they revel in riotous alt-pop.