“Looking Happy” matches an angular guitar riff that would do 1978 proud against lyrics bemoaning the reality of seeing an ex moving on with their life on social media. (We could only dream about the existence of social media back in ’78, although perhaps they would have been nightmares.) This is perhaps the subtlest of a few intriguing juxtapositions that characterize this tuneful, bittersweet song. There’s also the way the music’s upbeat energy counters, at every moment, the disconsolate lyrics. Relatedly, if you’ve ever heard a more sorrowful vocal tone matched against a song with the word “happy” in the title I’d like to hear about it. The fact that Reddy sings with such a palpable ache in such an energetic setting is itself a notable and engaging mismatch.
Best of all, though, is the music itself: sharply paced, tightly executed, and lit up by Reddy’s elastic voice, with its affecting upward leaps in the chorus (first heard at 0:38). An especially fetching vocal moment is wordless vocal break (1:00-:04); I love the descending swoop and then the finishing two-note punctuation—and then the fact that you hear this just once and it’s gone. This is the wonderful way concise rock songs work (this one clocks in just over three minutes)—nothing is belabored, nothing overstays its welcome. Check out for instance the synthesizer blurts that enter around 2:32, punctuating the song’s closing half-minute with a “ta-da!” kind of feeling. They show up, do their thing, and we’re done.
Ailbhe Reddy is a singer/songwriter based in Dublin. “Looking Happy” is a track from Reddy’s debut album Personal History, which was released earlier this month. You can listen to the whole thing, and buy it, over at Bandcamp.