What is Happiness Is Happening? It's a question listeners will likely find themselves asking after their first spin of Roman Flügel's second album, which is as idiosyncratic as one might expect of a producer who has spent nearly 20 years perplexing music hacks with a prolific back catalog of fun, often unclassifiable 12"s. Happiness Is Happening could be called a house record, but only in the loosest sense; the album's kicks and hats are there to carry the album's spacious 1980s synth-pop and melodic Krautrock motifs, and as such, it's an LP geared much more for home listening than for DJs.
This much is borne out by the opening track "Connecting the Ghost." With its simmering radio static and gently distorted swells of shoegazey guitar chords, the song feels like it's bracing itself for one of Steve Mason's world-weary, somnambulant vocals. At the other end of Happiness Is Happening, "All That Matters" again shows traces of Mason's Beta Band, with downbeat marimbas and bubbling synth notes that sound like they're being played at the bottom of a swimming pool.
Most of what goes on in between those tunes is an advancement of the musical themes from Flügel's Dial debut full-length, Fatty Folders, but with an even stronger emphasis on song-like structures and the wordless electronic ballads at that album's tail end. Aside from "Parade" and "Tense Times," there's nothing on Happiness Is Happening that presents itself as "the DJ track" (and there were quite a few—albeit pretty weird ones—on Fatty Folders).
In the album's press materials, Running Back boss Gerd Janson describes Happiness Is Happening as an album of "songs without a voice," but repeated listens don't necessarily prove that this characteristic is an obvious strength. Right at the end of "All That Matters," there's a snatch of singing that loops for about 20 seconds or so; Happiness Is Happening would have benefitted from some more of this, especially given the styles of music that Flugel is referencing elsewhere on the LP.
The album isn't helped by its relatively flat first half, either. "Friendship Song," "Stuffy," and "Your War Is Over" are, by themselves, solid b-side records, and good album tracks too. Strung together in the way they are though, the songs feel too similar to each other, as they share many of the same ingredients: lush, bucolic synths, laid over with crystal-clear melodies and a lot of intricate—and interesting—sonic flourishes.
Though Happiness Is Happening occupies the same sort of affecting, pastoral territory as its predecessor, it's simply not as strong of an effort. The sparse, off-the-cuff grooves of Flügel's first album are sorely missed here, and it feels telling that "Parades" and "Tense Times," though not necessarily the album's best tracks, are its most memorable.