A proponent of guitar textures and atmospheres as well as, to only a slightly lesser degree, rhythm and melody, California musician John Cudlip spent a couple years developing his sound before recording his debut EP under the Launder moniker with the likes of Jackson Phillips (Day Wave) and Zachary Cole Smith (DIIV, Beach Fossils). Arriving four years later, his full-length and Ghostly International debut, Happening, is the result of paring down dozens of demos to 13 tracks that he recorded with lead guitarist Nathan Hawelu, bassist Chase Meier, and drummer Bryan DeLeon (Talk in Tongues) at analog-digital New Monkey Studio in Van Nuys (once owned and updated by Elliott Smith). Further previewing its melodic shoegaze inspirations, the album was co-produced, engineered, and mixed by Sonny DiPerri, whose former clients include My Bloody Valentine and DIIV as well as sound-focused acts spanning Trent Reznor and Animal Collective. A full hour in length, Happening introduces Cudlip's relatively calm, brooding vocals amid buzzy and chiming timbres delivered in this case by hefty riffs and moody '90s alt-rock vibes on opener "Unwound," a song he co-wrote with DIIV's Smith and Colin Caulfield (aka Young Man). While much of the album is similarly high on hooks punctuated by feedback and distortion, and lyrics often concerned with being stuck, compromising dreams, and "quickly fading," the track list takes listeners on a journey, varying tempos, melodic phrasing (the languid "On a Wire"), and levels of haze and darkness. The churning, part-spoken "Beggar," for instance, veers toward anxious metal, while next track "Rust" contrasts with acoustic guitar and bittersweetness. The set even changes up singers, with Soko guesting on "Become." Elsewhere, the vocals on "Lockwood" are barely intelligible amongst its turbid layered guitars and crashing cymbals, while highlight "Parking Lot" might be the closest thing on the album to a potential Nirvana hit, and "Chipper" (another Cudlip-Smith-Caulfield entry), with its group-sounding multi-tracked vocals, is the nearest to jangly indie pop, at least beneath its heavier effects. Immersive even in these catchier moments, Happening could arguably do with one fewer seven-plus-minute song (there are two), but that's a minor gripe on a debut that impresses with songs as well as sound.
by Marcy Donelson