Dutch Elms Music for Happiness

Pop bands usually aren't known for their subtlety, but few are as blatant with their artistic intentions as the Dutch Elms. Music for Happiness isn't an ironic title, and the first full-length effort from the four-piece is so musically blithe, it practically floats. Like most bands that sound like them, they're liberal with their influences, including more than passing debts to acts old and new from the Hollies to the New Pornographers. And like most bands that sound like them, there's a detrimental catch: all four vocalists come off as far too unassuming, making many of the songs sound like a younger, higher-timbre Lou Reed fronting the Turtles, and it can be as awkward as it is compelling. Sure, there's a never-ending audience for that sloppy Stephen Malkmus melodicism, but you've got to wonder why a band would give their record a name like this, let alone arrange their songs to melt the sugar from the cane, just to sound at all hesitant once the party actually starts. Which is a damn shame, given how highlights like "Amelia Airheart" and "Letters From," despite their thin production (symptomatic of the album as a whole), prove they could be more than another throw-back with optimistically infectious smiles. (Jigsaw)