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HAPPY FAMILY

Zeuhl • Japan


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Happy Family picture
Happy Family biography
Fans of KING CRIMSON, UNIVERS ZERO and MAGMA, pay attention: HAPPY FAMILY* is one of the best bands currently happening in Japan right now. Furious riffing, noisy angular drumming, intense energy and top-notch musicianship is what they're about. Their guitar work is in the vein or Robert Fripp; the keyboards recall either UNIVERS ZERO or MAGMA (depending on what passages you're hearing); the fretless bass work will no doubt remind you of the MAGMA/Zeuhl fusion sound; and the drumming will instantly recall Bill Bruford or Daniel Denis of UNIVERS ZERO. Throw in a bit of heavy metal, some Japanese goofiness and you're in for quite a sonic ride.

Although they have released three cassettes in the early 90s (now out of print), the two following cd's are the only material available on the market: the eponymous "Happy Family" (95) and "Toscco" (97). The first features quirky and ultra-complicated themes and rhythms, yet the band never loses a step - even when they seem to get sloppy, it sounds deliberate and under control. On the grittier "Toscco" the band plays with more confidence still, although the music seems to have lost all traces of heavy metal (perhaps due to the presence of a new guitarist) and to concentrate on distilling the original aspects of the first album. Actually, hardly any traces of MAGMA or zeuhl remain on this one, replaced by a Zappa-like jazziness. This is amphetamine-driven music that demands your full attention. It takes a while to sink in but if you like being confounded by chaotic intensity, the trip is worth every penny you'll pay for these babies.

The first album is highly recommended to fans of KING CRIMSON, UNIVERS ZERO and MAGMA whereas the second is more likely to appeal to fans of TIPOGRAPHICA, DR. NERVE or IL BERLIONE.

* Not to be confused with another 'HAPPY FAMILY' of the late 80s.

: : : Lise (HIBOU), CANADA : : :

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Minimal GodsMinimal Gods
CUNEIFORM RECORDS 2017
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HAPPY FAMILY discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

HAPPY FAMILY top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.76 | 52 ratings
Happy Family
1995
3.87 | 118 ratings
Toscco
1997
3.83 | 28 ratings
Minimal Gods
2014

HAPPY FAMILY Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

0.00 | 0 ratings
Flying Spirit Dance Live
1994

HAPPY FAMILY Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

HAPPY FAMILY Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

HAPPY FAMILY Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

HAPPY FAMILY Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Happy Family by HAPPY FAMILY album cover Studio Album, 1995
3.76 | 52 ratings

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Happy Family
Happy Family Zeuhl

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

4 stars While the classic prog world of the 70s has been an infinite well-spring of inspiration for generations to come, it is always interesting when the newer bands latch onto the greats of the past and take their sounds somewhere nobody ever expected. Far away in an island country called Japan, far from the initial English scene that spread to the continent, prog admirers were taking a more extreme approach to the 70s scene. HAPPY FAMILY was one of many Japanese bands to take different strains of European prog and sew them together in unthinkable ways. This band formed all the way back in 1987 with the consistent lineup of Kenichi Morimoto (keyboards), Tatsuya Miyano (bass), Shige Makino (guitar) and Keiichi Nagase on drums after they met at the University of Tokyo. The band released two albums in the 90s and then out of the blue reunited for a third in 2014.

Their self-titled debut album shows the common love of Magma's zeuhl rhythmic drive similar to other Japanese bands such as Ruins and Bondage Fruit, however while those bands tended to embellish the zeuhl with their own zany antics, HAPPY FAMILY wasn't happy with the zeuhl influences alone. On their eponymous debut they decorate the zeuhl rhythms with the avant-prog Rock In Opposition sophistication of Univers Zero with outlandish complex time signature frenzies, the harshness of "Red" era (well other eras too actually) King Crimson guitar and bass bombast along with the jazz-fusion and funk influences of early Area that even includes a touch of the Balkan gypsy folk that made them sound so unique. While some influences dominate such as the Area ones on "Rock & Young" and the Crimson-esque approach on "Kalten (Ningen Gyorai)," often all of these elements play side by side in interlocking units of sonic complexity.

Musically HAPPY FAMILY churn out seven tracks that all stand out. Some are dark, some are cheery and some such as "Rolling The Law Court" have a cartoonish feel sometimes conjuring up a Danny Elfman "Simpsons" theme song type of vibe. The tracks are all instrumental and basically extended jams bloated with extreme physical workouts. The most ambitious track is the nineteen minute "Naked King" which perfectly demonstrates the Japanese stylistic fusion in full force. It is laced with eerily dark atmospheres, Crimsonian stomps of guitar power with zeuhl rhythms, jazz-fusion sensibilities and avant-prog jittery counterpoints that add a unique sense of Area's "Arbeit Macht Frei" idiosyncrasies to the mix. The track is off the charts heavy and unnerving but proceeds in a logical manner that delivers some of the coolest instrumental prog there is to be heard. Perhaps it dwells on a wee bit too long in full Crimsonian glory but i actually dig the ballsy gusto on display. The album ends with a macabre piano piece that quickly adds another layer of weirdness to the mix. HAPPY FAMILY put out an adventurous debut of complex prog. If that's your thang, do check this out.

 Minimal Gods by HAPPY FAMILY album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.83 | 28 ratings

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Minimal Gods
Happy Family Zeuhl

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

4 stars I think the most surprising news for me in 2014 was hearing that HAPPY FAMILY was releasing a new album. They released two studio albums in the nineties and I just thought they were done. I listened to a short audio clip and I was sold. Like their earlier albums this is heavy and complex and all instrumental. In fact after my first listen i'm thinking this is more Math Rock than Zeuhl, I just don't hear that Zeuhl flavour at all on this one. The keyboards don't always do it for me so I would rate their first two albums higher than this one but they are all 4 star records in my opinion.

"Slide" is heavy-duty and quite growly and deep sounding. Angular guitar leads follow and they will come and go. Just an intense slab of instrumental music. "No Talent, No Smell" is another complex piece that is very mathy. I'm not a fan of some of the keyboard sounds but this is an excellent song overall. "Rodrigo" is heavy again with keys playing over top. It does settle some as the contrasts continue. Ripping guitar before 2 1/2 minutes. "Portal Site For Sightseeing" has some light shining in it for a change as we get an almost feel good vibe. Check out the guitar and drum work after 2 1/2 minutes. Amazing! Nice bass lines before 5 minutes as well. This is an uptempo track with lots going on. "Doggy-Human Contest" is uptempo with keys as the guitar plays over top. Check out the drum work as well. Some cool guitar/keyboard interplay around 3 1/2 minutes in then it turns dark and heavy 4 minutes in. Nice. Nasty and growly organ runs follow along with some deep bass grooves.

"Animal Spirit" has riffing and more in this fairly heavy and complex piece. The keyboards are all over it as well. "Cat Riding Roomba" is crazy fast with so much going on. There's a Zappa flavour to this one. It does settle back at times but not a lot. "Celestial Illegal Construction" opens with keys as some kick-ass drums join in. The guitar starts to make some noise over top. I like the guitar solo after 3 minutes here. Not a fan of the synths before 4 minutes though. It ends in a more calm manner. "Tibadabo" is very mathy with keys, guitar and drums standing out. It settles down before a minute but contrasts will continue. Great sound 2 1/2 minutes in with liquid keys then the guitar lights it up before it settles back again. "Feu De Joie" has this heavy and growly sound to start before a calm with keys takes over quickly. Back to the heaviness with organ. Synths play over top in a high pitched manner. Themes are repeated. What a killer closing track.

I was expecting more I must admit but this is still a very impressive album and comeback by HAPPY FAMILY.

 Minimal Gods by HAPPY FAMILY album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.83 | 28 ratings

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Minimal Gods
Happy Family Zeuhl

Review by Nogbad_The_Bad
Special Collaborator RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team

4 stars The very welcome return of the excellent Japanese band Happy Family. The band released two heavy complex noisy Zeuhl albums in 95 (s/t) & 97 (Tossco) then disappeared. They have now returned 15 years later. All three albums are on the wonderful Cuneiform label.

The instrumental quartet is made up of keyboards, guitar, bass & drums feature three of the members who were on the last album, Kenichi Morimoto - keyboards, Takahiro Izutani - guitar Keiichi Nagasse - drums, and with new bassist Hidemi Ichikaw.

They bring a King Crimson & Magma flavor to distinctly Japanese Metal in a similar vein to Bondage Fruit.

If you like it heavy, complex & noisy look no further, it's a winner.

 Toscco by HAPPY FAMILY album cover Studio Album, 1997
3.87 | 118 ratings

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Toscco
Happy Family Zeuhl

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

3 stars The second album by Happy Family finds the band honing their Zeuhl style, and adding to their repertoire a substantial influence from the mid-1970s King Crimson circa Larks' Tongues In Aspic. This is, of course, not a combination which lacks precedent; back in the 1970s, Heldon produced albums which showed a very strong King Crimson influence and which at points leaned in a zeuhlish direction, and of course Happy Family's fellow Japanese zeuhl practitioners Bondage Fruit combined the two styles very successfully.

Too successfully for Happy Family's good, in fact - whilst this is an intriguing listen, I keep finding myself wanting to relisten to Bondage Fruit's second album when I listen to it, because that tended to be much more original and modern in its approach to melding the two styles. Still, this one's worth a go if you like this particular mashup.

 Happy Family by HAPPY FAMILY album cover Studio Album, 1995
3.76 | 52 ratings

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Happy Family
Happy Family Zeuhl

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Happy Family's first album finds the four man set of Morimoto, Myano, Makino and Nagase jamming their little zeuhlish hearts out to produce intricate instrumentals of tangled-up RIO- flavoured music. The technical accomplishment and the sheer complexity on show is impressive, although personally I find that the album begins to suffer from a lack of variation in emotional tone or atmosphere - at plenty of points the band seem to be playing for playing's sake. There are, of course, plenty of people who find that to be more than enough - and such folk will probably dig this album a lot - but for me music needs some context, whether it's an emotion or a mood or a tone or an atmosphere or an idea or a story it wants to convey, in order to avoid degenerating into aimless noodling.
 Toscco by HAPPY FAMILY album cover Studio Album, 1997
3.87 | 118 ratings

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Toscco
Happy Family Zeuhl

Review by toroddfuglesteg

4 stars The opening three minutes long opening track The Great Man gives the listener a forewarning of what to come. Then Happy Family fasten the grip and never let's go until the end of this album....... and long after the last tone has rung out.

Coming in somewhere in the Present landscape, me too slightly wonders about this band's inclusion in the Zeuhl genre. But I also understand why they are included. A song like Overdrive Locomotive is leaning very strongly towards Magma. As a conclusion, I would say Happy Family have one foot in Zeuhl and the other one in Avant-Garde/RIO. A great combination in my view.

The tempo varies between frantic and pretty lyrical and gloomy at times. Happy Family also owes a great deal to the likes of John Coltrane too. The music is also epic most of the time. Dare I say symphonic ? Happy Family and this album is surely the subject of lively debates for decades to come.

I do not the quality of the songs are up for debate though. The songs here never becomes uninteresting. There is always something going on. A jazzy snare drum, a rampaging bass, some funky guitars, some gloomy melody lines........ I can go on forever. There is a great deal of variations throughout the album. That makes this album a truly great album and one of the better RIO/Zeuhl albums I have ever heard. Excellent stuff.

4 stars

 Toscco by HAPPY FAMILY album cover Studio Album, 1997
3.87 | 118 ratings

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Toscco
Happy Family Zeuhl

Review by Sinusoid
Prog Reviewer

4 stars The opener alone should be an indication as to how wonderful of an album you let yourself into. ''The Great Man'' has to be one of the best ideas laid to tape as the spectacular oboe-like melodies float over your head while the guitars go for the heavy. The rest of TOSCCO doesn't quite live up to the reputation of ''The Great Man'', but Happy Family tries.

Even if the whole of TOSCCO is very avant-garde, mushy and brutal, there always one little melody or line that will stick in your head for some time. The start-stop feel of ''He Is Coming at Tokyo Station'' lets you know the Zeuhl train has arrived and in brutal form. Follow that with ''Picture Book'' and it's funky synths and crashing, trashing metal later on, and you've got a winner. ''Overdrive Locomotive'' is as brutal as it implies, and the metal continues on ''Nord Company'' and ''Filial Piety'' with the latter opening on a memorable wah-guitar line.

Shame that the two longer tracks leave a lot to be desired. ''The Sushi Bar'' may not have bad manners or a bad face, but the taste of nearly twelve minutes isn't exactly pleasing even if the first notable melody is soothing. ''The Three Leaves Insect'' is very epic in nature, but it takes so long to get going that by the time we have gotten somewhere, I've lost interest. Thankfully, a reprise of ''The Great Man'' caps the album on a high note.

This is intense, brutal Zeuhl metal with the occasional foray into RIO, jazz and prog structures. Best yet, TOSCCO isn't a diarrhea mess of complexity even if the sounds make that implication. The description of the ''Toscco'' is quite interesting (see liner notes) even if I can't make heads or tails of it.

 Toscco by HAPPY FAMILY album cover Studio Album, 1997
3.87 | 118 ratings

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Toscco
Happy Family Zeuhl

Review by Dobermensch
Prog Reviewer

1 stars I was seriously disappointed with this album. It has a raw ugly sound to it and there are no vocals at all. I guess I was expecting something in the vein of the wonderful 'Koenjihyakkei'. Alas, the two bands are poles apart. Even the childish font on the front and back cover annoys me along with the 'baby' doodlings inside. You'd think that the addition of keyboards would smooth things out a little but they sound like a really cheap Yamaha I had in 1986 that played annoying artificial brass and trumpet sounds.

The appearance of a xylophone on 'The Sushi Bar' momentarily lifts my spirits but a few seconds later the frown appears on my forehead again. Grrr! I'm three quarters of way through this album and I can't wait for it to end. I'm just surprised to see that it has such a high score in the 'Archives' so I guess I must be the square peg in the round hole.

A very irritating experience and an album that has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I'm just surprised so many people like it. Oh - and another thing - it doesn't sound like Zeuhl either - just an un-coordinated din.

 Happy Family by HAPPY FAMILY album cover Studio Album, 1995
3.76 | 52 ratings

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Happy Family
Happy Family Zeuhl

Review by snobb
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars Wow! Japanese usual psychedelic attack on your ears, but this time in very hard core form.

Debut (?) album of this Japanese band contains very explosive mix of angular King Crimsonian guitars, cold militaristic Magma drumming, some chamber RIO elements and freaky Zappa's atmosphere all mixed in one aural attack. Excellent musicianship technique, very calculated compositions. Dark, cold and totalitaristic sound, guitar soloing in this dark place and hammer-like drumming on the front of the sound mix. If you are familiar with less radical Japanese zeuhl bands, just add hard core (big doze) to their sound and you can imagine what is Happy Family.

One of excellent examples of Japanese psychedelic zeuhl with strong RIO flavour. Before listening just be sure you're ready this dark attack will destroy your mind though!

 Happy Family by HAPPY FAMILY album cover Studio Album, 1995
3.76 | 52 ratings

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Happy Family
Happy Family Zeuhl

Review by Cesar Inca
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

5 stars Happy Family's debut album is an accurate example of the way that the Japanese contemporary progressive scene recaptured and revitalized the Zeuhl monster in order to keep it breathing all the way through the 90s and 00s: "Happy Family" is not only a catalogue, but it is also a paradigm of how you can maintain and nurture the spirit of avant- garde in the present times by providing it with an extraordinary use of abundant doses of stamina and electricity. Of course, the talent at writing material, the skill at playing in interaction with your partners and the passion to make it work beyond the inherent intellectual drive are also items of great importance when it comes to making good experimental rock, and the foursome of Happy Family are pretty much gifted on these three departments. It is a pity that this one and "Toscco" would eventually be their only inputs to the international prog scenario, but it is also true that the spectacular greatness of both items amply compensates for their brevity. Well, it now our time to review their debut album, originally released in 1995. The aptly titled 'Rock & Young' kicks off the album in a delightful mixture of trepidation and frenzy that is robustly designed around the implacable rhythmic scheme. These HP guys really anticipated the sort of avant-prog for the 00s that acts like Guapo and Nebelnest would later grace our ears with, but yet the HP guys seemed to have drunk 2-3 Redbull bottles and spent a couple of hours under "Clockwork Orange"-style torture. Those who got acquainted with this band in proper time must have had a trauma or a revelation, no in between. 'Shige Et Osanna' follows on a similarly intense note, but this time the urgency is less prominent and the rhythm duo's swing is more elaborated. The guitar parts are more Crimsonian, indeed, and so are the bass lines (Wetton would have loved to come up with them during his glorious 72-74 tenure in the band of Fripp & co.). This piece is, to say it in one word, jazz-oriented, and so the next one 'Partei' is more deeply jazzy. This one might as well be described as a hybrid of Present and Kenso, with an extra touch of the frenetic dynamics that HP is so well known for. 'Rolling the Law Court' takes the recurrent neurosis to a more playful level, somehow emulating the Dadaistic cynicism of Zappa, plus refined flavors of standard 90s jazz-rock. By now, you can tell that these guys are not only about progressive madness, but they are also capable of instilling passages and arrangements where control is the key among the overall extroverted framework. For the elaboration of 'Kaiten (Ningen Gyorai)', the band decides to take one step back from the stylish refinement present in the preceding 2 tracks and goes for an approach closer to heavy prog, partially leaning toward the Crimsonian standard and adding raw jazz-friendly textures a-la Xaal. The magnificent guitar lead provided by Shigeru Makino rounds liek a simultaneosu homage to Messrs. Fripp and Vai, while the synth solo that follows sounds like a creepy reconstruction of vintage Jan Hammer. Now that I think about it, this track is also very refined, only with a more abundant muscular element set as the nucleus for the instrumental developments. With its 19 minute span, 'Naked King' works as the album's definitive climax. Its slow, majestic intro theme soon leads us to the main body, properly syncopated through a creepy atmosphere ? very much a Francophone RIO thing (Univers Zero, Vortex, Present, you know?). On the other hand, it is also fair not to forget that HP adds its own colorfulness to this progressive thread, and this is particularly true concerning the dynamics utilized for this piece's development. Images of solemnity and decadence are conjured by the integral sonic framework as the first climax shifts toward an explorative improvisational section that enhances the running creepiness. Once the climax returns in a proactive manner, the neurosis returns to its original intensity until the grayish intro theme returns for the coda. After this incredible journey of magnificence and darkness, the brief piano solo entitled 'Drums Whisper Spacy' closes down the album with an aura of crepuscular quietness. What a way to build up an explosion and then a calm closure as the album's finalization! What an album! Enough said, 5 stars, Happy Family has to be dearly missed, please tell all new prog fans about them.
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