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What I had in mind was a review of The Happy Hollows’ NEW release Spells, rather than an article of historic interest. Before we’re into a new year, let me just do this. The Happy Hollows – Sarah Negahdari, Chris Hernandez, and Charles Mahoney – are quite incredible live, but to truly appreciate the range of Sarah’s expressive vocals, the cornucopia of moods and styles, and fun/ferocious experimentation, you have to sit down at leisure with their amazing debut album, Spells. Which I finally did, jotting down my initial impressions upon hearing it, uninterrupted and at the forefront of my spinning but focused mind. I’m not promising that any of this will make any sense whatsoever, so I’ll summarize: they’re wonderful, it’s hard to believe this is just their first full-length release, and you should buy one. You should also see them, when they come back around. I felt privileged to be at T.T. The Bear’s that night.

“I get very bored with myself, so I sometimes dress up as other people for a day or two and write from their perspective,” Negahdari told Wired.com in an e-mail interview. On Spells, this delicious schizophrenia is let off its leash and given the space to run at full gallop. Breathtaking!

Faces ~ “I’ve been told 1,000 times, turn that frown back into smile, it’s what the world needs right now.” It’s ok to feel bad sometimes. You have no responsibility to put on a happy face for the greater good of the world, if you’re feeling like shit. A paean to self-pity, god bless it.

Death to Vivek Kemp ~ Pretty, melodic… and little otherworldly cries. Sarah’s multiple personalities, whimsical sound and lyrics. “Green horses, and the flowers all turn into radios.” [Green horses, right? My usual request for full lyrics online somewhere, please guys! Or I’ll continue to embarrass myself and make everyone else laugh.]

Silver ~ Starts with crazy chaos and vocals as through an underwater megaphone. The guitars and backing vocals for some odd reason reminded me of something by Iggy Pop, but I don’t know what and I don’t know why. The shrieks of a mad woman, morphing back into a more solid structure, and ending with more crazy shrieks.

We Will Find You ~ Unusual vocalizations and breathy utterances, with answering ringing guitar notes. Do I hear a bit of Tom Tom Club in there? “You know we’ll find you, you know we’re right behind you, we’re right beside you, we’ll just reach out and touch you.”

Lieutenant ~ Wow. Amazingly crafted, showcasing Sarah’s considerable vocal range. Ethereal, angel-like highs and mysterious, slightly menacing and seductive lows. Simultaneously childlike and all-knowing. Alt-rock/prog in places… a weird flashback – Emerson, Lake & Palmer? Astonishing guitar riffs! Damn, she’s good! Very experimental, shifting moods throughout. Rambunctious to sweet and dreamy.

Father Time ~ “I’m dancing around in chains, tell myself it’s not too late, dreams will have to wait.

Monster Room ~ Haunting spoken vocals underneath Sarah’s own sweet angelic singing. Layering of different vocal personalities. A young girl. A frantic, hysterical madwoman. A lone ghost, spoken thoughts.

High Wire ~ Love the schizo guitar! Which then changes into something completely different for the chorus. “Wrap my head around it and figure it out, can’t put my finger on it; you’re fooling yourself.”

Turtle and Hare ~ Beautiful violin (Charlene Huang); gorgeous song. Like a fairytale with winding rivers and subtle shadings. Loreena McKennitt-like in its wistfulness and soft, sweet melancholy. “Happiness is what I want, when I’m standing in the mud…”

Deloren ~ Charlie on vocals in this whimsical longing to be abducted by aliens.

I know you’re out there in Mexico
hanging out with Navajo in Arizona
playing games with the Air Force in Colorado
and in DC with the president.
You know the pagans and L. Ron Hubbard
you know the cult members from Heaven’s Gate and Jonestown
why not me? what did I do? what did I do? why not me? why not me?
… We all need a Delorean, to take us away.”

Sarah’s guitar has a complete schizophrenic nervous breakdown about halfway through.

The Stein ~ More surprising vocals from Sarah, which, come to think of it, isn’t surprising at all. From sweet chanteuse to some extremely yang sounding shouts.

Tambourine ~ Sarah’s voice knows no bounds, freely careening around unselfconsciously, like a spoken/sung stream of consciousness that includes a good demon-purging at the end with appropriately fuzzy, crazed guitar.

A Man, A Plan, A Canal ~ Charlie on vocals with soft backing cries and shrieks courtesy of Sarah. Very quirky – vocally, lyrically and musically. “The trip’s too long, the boat’s too wet… I think we’ll go build a canal, why don’t we go and build a canal.” Delightful bit of wacky guitar at the end.

Second Lieutenant ~ “If you ask me, I… I will tell you.” Sarah’s voice comes out of a swirling sea of music as if from a partially recalled dream.

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Spells, excellent title, as they certain cast quite a few of them with this surprising debut album. A few words about the album artwork. As Sarah explained in a recent interview, they didn’t have enough money to hire an artist, so she figured she’d ‘have a go’. Which is amazing, because her dreamy and whimsical watercolors of trees and magical horses give visual expression to her imaginative vocal styling and storytelling. It so perfectly complements the free-spirited experimentation of their music, that I can’t imagine anyone else being entrusted with this important task. It’s fanciful, with a childlike innocence that belies the darker and crazier elements beneath the surface that they can, and do, at times summon.

The Happy Hollows has two shows scheduled for next year thus far, as part of 10 Days of 2010 Holiday Festival: Jan 7 @ The Mint (all ages) and Jan 8 @ The Viper Room, both in Los Angeles. I’ll be keeping a close eye out for future East Coast dates, that’s for sure!

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