Happy Living

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Mumble hail from Ann Arbor, a college town in Michigan, and that figures -- as smart pop bands go, Mumble sound as if they've been taking advanced placement classes since they were in ninth grade. That's not to say Mumble don't bring their fair share of tactile pleasure to their debut album, 2010's Happy Living, but as far as the mind/body equation goes, this is a band that consistently goes for brains over brawn, and that seems to be working just fine for them. Happy Living dips its toes into a little bit of everything in the world of pop -- "Mad Drivers" sounds like it could have been the work of some obscure '80s new wave band; "In It Now" recalls '70s FM radio fodder;

"Channel Swimmer" conjures up reggae as filtered through the Police; "Daffodil" leans toward prog rock in its studied drift; "Cost Benefit Analysis" throws some burly hard rock guitar into the mix, and "I Got a Woman" is a soft rock hit single waiting to happen. Mumble strain the boundaries of the word "eclectic" on Happy Living, but the album does find a coherent identity amidst the myriad stylistic shifts thanks to the versatile vocal skills of John Hawthorne, the impressive instrumental chops displayed by Hawthorne and his bandmates (especially guitarist Eric Empson), the understated wit that runs beneath the tunes, and the adventurous songwriting which adds interesting sonic detours to nearly every song. There are moments on Happy Living where Mumble almost sound a bit too smart for their own good, but they're savvy students who know how to apply what they've learned, and this album confirms they've done their course work and the applied knowledge adds up to a genuinely promising debut.

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