Is "retro" a genre? Probably not. It's just not descriptive enough. Retro compared to what? Today's music will eventually be "retro," right? All right, good - we're in agreement - calling a band "retro" is mostly ineffective. Now, with that said, The Happy Hollows is a retro band. In 2009, the band released Spells, an album that conjured the nostalgic early 90's of Elastica, Lush, and That Dog. The music was full of distorted, fuzzy guitars and pop hooks led by vocalist Sarah Negahdari. Four years later, their follow-up, Amethyst, finds the band traveling back in time again, only this time they've landed in the mid 80's.
Amethyst is a summer record. In a sound reminiscent of Beach House, The Happy Hollows are working with outdated synthesizers, reverb-soaked guitar, and dreamy vocals. The songs are propelled by melody though, so the music never feels too spacey or meandering. Negahdari's guitarwork (one of the best things about Spells) is dialed back on this album in favor for more keys/synths. Amethyst's strongest tracks are generally the ones that feature her instrumentation (along with fellow guitarist Matt Fry) the most prominently. The wonderful "Stop the World" runs surf-rock through a hip Instagram filter, and the guitar is the beating heart of it all.
The title track is one of the best songs on the album, and it sticks out among the rest by its tone. While most of the tracks here are bouncy and fun, the mood that "Amethyst" evokes is a bit more aggressive. It works well for them - the album could have benefited from a bit more shiftiness and paranoia. Amethyst has a tendency to wander into midtempo territory, where most of the album's least interesting tracks lurk. Songs like "Count No Years" and "Beside Me" are easily forgotten because they sound as if the band has lost all of its energy. Had "Beside Me" been injected with the same enthusiasm found in "Amethyst" or "Galaxies," it would be a wonderful track.
The Happy Hollows' sophomore album is ripe with catchy melodies, and at 10 tracks, its sweetness never outwears its welcome. The band's sound has changed drastically since their debut, but they pull off the new sound without it sounding too foreign. In their move to the 1980's, they've tempered down their energy and liveliness for (theoretically) a more approachable and accessible sound. The best songs here find the balance between the kinetics of Spells and the lushness of modern dream-pop (or would that be vintage 80's nostalgia-pop?). At the end of the day, Amethyst works because The Happy Hollows focus primarily on the melody; these songs are enjoyable in the moment, and most of them will even leave you wanting more.