Album Cover
Cyann & Ben
Happy Like an Autumn Tree
May 24, 2004


Oh sophomore slump! How I missed you so! But why? Oh why did you have to choose the poor, French folk Cyann & Ben? It's just not fair!

But then again, I guess it was a lot to expect any band to be able to produce such a focused, restrained masterpiece that last year's Spring was. Opposite of label-mates M83, Cyann & Ben produced an epic feeling album without layer after layer of sonic blast; It was Spring's self-restraint and delicacy that made it such a powerful, haunting feat of psych-folk. But here, on Happy Like an Autumn Tree, Cyann & Ben seem to have forgotten all they had learned about subtlety. On practically every track, the band has unleashed all of its instruments after only a minute, and the results of a more conventional approach are discouraging. Nowhere on the album can a moment as simply sweet as "Behind Her Smiling Eyes" or "I Can't Pretend Anymore" be found; Happy is a full, lumbering swirl.

The album opens with "Circle", a track similar to "Siren Song" in stature and composure, but comes reasonably short of its predecessor's climatic awe as it slowly falls apart towards its end. "A Moment Nowhere" opens nicely, with its foreboding synth, guitar, and strolling drumbeat, and the song begins to sound like a relaxed Grandaddy, with the vocal melodies sounding similar to Jason Lytle, but slowly but surely, as the song progresses, the sonic buildup of climax is suddenly accompanied by a choir of jostling Ooh's and AhAh's that completely ruins the growling guitar's distorted thrashing.

One of Happy's biggest problems is the over-instrumentation in each track, and specifically, the overuse of the keyboards. Instead of adding to the sonic texture and tone as they did in Spring, keyboards force themselves at center stage, and quite frankly, find themselves in areas where they just don't belong. That said, the album comes off feeling like one of those cheap soundtracks for a Halloween night; its eeriness is cheesy, and its strength is reserved. A track like "Gone to Waste" would have been strong, but instead it finds itself haunted with overused, bland keyboards. The album still contains the same mysteriously nice vocal melodies, and the same tone as Spring, but Cyann & Ben seem to lack direction and inspiration this time around, and the album is just not motivated enough to feel captivating.

Let's not forget that all phrases placed inside parenthesis may be ignored, as is the case with three of the tracks on Happy Like an Autumn Tree. These tracks seem to serve almost no purpose at all, as their experiments with noise are not flattering or persuasive at all, and come nowhere near the perfectly placed "Selected Ambient Work" of Spring. "(Silences and Little Melodies for...)" comes off as pure filler, while "(Close to Discovery)" turns into an unbearably ugly crash of sound, and "(TidE)" completely fails as a transitional piece between "a Moment Nowhere" and "Summer".

Luckily, the last two tracks of Happy Like an Autumn Tree prove the band has not lost all of what they previously had. "Summer" is a sweeping track, that is mysterious and delicate in its percussion-less composure, with keyboard crescendos abundant but not ridiculous. And the album closer "Obsessing and Screaming Voice in a Shell" is an amazing, climatic masterpiece of an ending, which slowly builds over its entirety until it's unbearably beautiful (and quite honestly, the only 'happy' song Cyann & Ben have ever released).

Where repeated listens to Spring revealed an album more complex and powerful than at first, continued playing of Happy forms one idea in the mind of the listener: It's just not worth it. While Cyann & Ben haven't lost all of their skills, they most assuredly have forgotten how to put them together. Overall, Happy Like an Autumn Tree feels more like a band trying to find itself, and the album would have been much more suitable as an alright debut from a promising band. Instead, Happy comes as a horrible let down in comparison to Spring, and a horrible suggestion that perhaps Cyann & Ben's debut was the best they had in them.

Andrew Wexler

Track List

  1. Circle
  2. (Silences and Little Melodies for...)
  3. Gone to Waste
  4. (Close to Discovery)
  5. A Moment Nowhere
  6. (Tide)
  7. Summer
  8. Obsessing and Screaming Voice in a Shell