by Sacha Kingston-Wayne
Tang like to make use of contradictory titles: their deeply melancholy new album is called Super Happy and ends with the calm, lulling “Pure Calamity”. The mood is set by Peter Johnson (also of Toronto post-hardcore duo Low Sun) wispily singing “you’re probably better off than me” on opener “It’s Not (All) Bad”. Paired with spare acoustic guitar, the end result is reminiscent of all things Phil Elverum, with whom Johnson shares an almost uncomfortably intimate delivery.
One of Tang’s best features is their ability to craft short songs which leave an impression, often by way of stream-of-consciousness lyricism. “You were there with color in your face, rolling around on a mattress on the floor,” Johnson sings near the beginning of “Wretched Harmony,” a welcome entry in the ever-growing “songs about being on the floor” sub-genre of 2010s twee. Later, the haunting “Maybe It’s Beautiful” builds to a catharsis with the help of affecting harmonies.
Occasionally, Tang are able to break free from their defining tenderness, most notably when becoming a post-punk band for forty-one seconds on “The Chair Of Tears”. They also showcase their malleability with the John Jacob Niles cover “Go ‘Way From My Window,” somehow making banjo sound tolerable again. It’s true hurting music, something which Johnson clearly has affection for.
Super Happy is downbeat compared to Tang’s debut, It’s Medicine, while also being more indelible and fleshed out. Their recent melodies stick in a way which their old ones didn’t. The end result is visceral in its focus on heartbreak and the subsequent aftermath.