Sometimes hearing a great debut by an unknown band can be the best and worst thing. A great debut by a major band (hell, even a band that more than 1,000 people have heard of) promises at least a follow-up of some sort, but there’s no guarantee like that with small bands. The debut might be great, but it was made in basements on days that everyone had off, and written after working double shifts. Real life simply gets in the way.
Thankfully, that’s not the case with Candy Hearts. After coming out swinging last year with Ripped Up Jeans and Silly Dreams, the New Jersey punk band have gained a lot of ground support, and eventually signed to indie label Kind of Like Records for Everything’s Amazing & Nobody’s Happy. Last year, I reviewed Ripped Up Jeans; a great album, but I was a little too gushy about it. But it wasn’t only a great album, but an infectious one, too; you couldn’t listen to it and not feel like this band was onto something.
While the mood may have changed, that sentiment hasn’t. Decisively less twee than Ripped Up Jeans, Everything’s Amazing is the sound of a band coming into its own. Their debut saw Candy Hearts putting on several different hats, and they distill each of those sounds on this album. Many of these songs add acoustic guitar to a normal rock band setup; not a new idea in itself, but it adds a depth that makes the band stand out from their peers. This record doesn’t have some of Ripped Up Jeans‘ nervous energy, but traded that in for poise and finesse.
All of this is clear in opener “Tongue Tied”. Built around a catchy guitar lick, a pleasant beat, and a hell of a singalong chorus, the song has a personable and comfortable fit right away. Meanwhile, the stop-start stomp of “Lighter Than Air” runs with confidence and tight musicianship. The sounds on Everything’s Amazing might be somewhat singular, but that doesn’t keep Candy Hearts from trying something new, like slowburner “She’s So Cool”, or multiple vocalists on “I Want Out”.
Also much more confident is singer Mariel Loveland. She’s still somewhat quiet, but much less airy and more adventurous in her range. The whole band has this confidence and they (although I loathe the expression, it applies here) expand their sound; Kris Hayes (or Loveland, whoever’s doing lead guitar) throws in many more riffs and has a more expressive method of playing. The rhythm section steps it up as well, Christina Picciano acts as the band’s secret weapon through her attack and release drumming (see: “Ashbury Park”), and Greg Baldwin’s bass grounds arrangements that could fall apart on their own.
“Everything’s Amazing & Nobody’s Happy” perfectly captures the album’s lyrical dichotomy. Tunes like “What I’m Made Of”, “Everything’s Alright”, and “Lighter Than Air” stay positive in spite of, well, everything, because “growing up takes a couple tries”. But there’s songs where nobody’s happy, too. That sudden feeling of “I don’t know you anymore” on “Sleepy Kisses” is absolutely heartbreaking, and “I Want Out” speaks of the frustrations that drive plenty of great pop punk. The most telling lyrical one-two on the album is the tradeoff between “She’s So Cool”‘s down and out insecurity and “Good Enough”, which does its best to embrace those same emotions.
Most of these songs entirely succeed. Not that the opening two songs are bad, but the four song run beginning with “She’s So Cool” and ending with “Ashbury Park” hits an early high. The slower tempo of “She’s So Cool” marks it as a definite grower, and “Sleepy Kisses” is absolutely affecting. Towards the end of the album, “Jawbreaker” kicks the band into high gear again, and they play the shit out of “What I’m Made Of”. Not every song works, though. Fortunately and unfortunately, the two weakest tracks on the album are paired next to each other: “When I’m With You” and “Something Special” put a six minute lull in the middle of the album. You certainly couldn’t call either song bad, but they’re uninteresting compared to what’s around them.
Everything’s Amazing & Nobody’s Happy is still an enjoyable start to finish record, though. The musicianship is tight, the hooks are solid, and the positives more than pick up the slack left on the lesser moments. The album’s incredibly human, and speaks to young adults still trying to figure life (and themselves) out. Even though life gets tough, there are some people that have a resilience and an optimism that says “I’m in for the long haul”, and Candy Hearts is one of them. Four and a half out of five stars.
tl;dr: Candy Hearts show what they’re made of, 4.5/5.