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Sound Advice: The Happiness Project by Charles Spearin

Every Tuesday, Torontoist scours record store shelves in search of the city’s most notable new releases and brings you the best—or sometimes just the biggest—of what we’ve heard in Sound Advice.
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This week’s Sound Advice presents a difficult challenge: to listen to this week’s release and not crack a smile (not even a little smirk) and to not be charmed, compelled, or otherwise completely cuted-out. Go!
The mere concept of Charles Spearin’s (Do Make Say Think, Broken Social Scene) debut makes this task daunting; The Happiness Project, released on Arts&Crafts, is a quirky exploration of the hidden cadence in everyday speech. Birthed from the Spearin family’s summer spent acquainting themselves with their neighbourhood friendlies, Spearin started interviewing the people he befriended about their lives and what made them happy. Within the answers he found rhythms and melodies and around them composed complementary arrangements, making sure not to bury the subject or the message under the music.
Any assumed pretentiousness of a conceptual piece like The Happiness Project is dismissed by the modest candour of the interview subjects. On “Mrs. Morris,” the farting-horn punctuated opener (and album standout), the song namesake is grateful to have been asked over to chat, a reminder that someone cares. Extra adorable points are awarded for the children’s ramblings (“Vittoria” and the scraping-violin-as-whining-child “Ondine”), even if they seem to have the least to do with the overall concept and whose small (but so very, very cute!) phrases are the album’s most mundane loops. With the exception of these two tracks, Spearin manipulates his neighbours’ words not to in any way alter their context, but to build a hook, the repeating of a phrase often segueing into the meat of the musical arrangements. The folk/jazz/shoegaze blends are good, at least within the context they’re used, but probably won’t send these songs to the PA of your local hipster dive; keep them instead for your headphones on a quiet morning commute.
There isn’t much—conceptually or musically—keeping The Happiness Project from the land of rainbows or peace signs or other such hippie nonsense, but Spearin’s neighbours and their humble musings ground the project, finding happiness in the simplicities of life; it’s pretty simple to find some happiness amidst this smile-to-yourself cuteness, too.

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