Album Review: Circa Waves - 'Sad Happy'

Circa Waves are back with an album that contrasts their quintessentially memorable indie rock sound with more ballad-like tracks. It’s intriguing, it’s different, and it might be their best offering yet.


2020, despite all its drama, should be a good year in terms of new music. On the indie scene, Tame Impala have released their first work in half a decade with The Slow Rush and giants The 1975 are due to release Notes on a Conditional Form in May. Circa Waves are no different, and their fourth studio album Sad Happy, released in March, is a sophisticated, thoughtful and astute effort.


The Liverpool-based four piece have marketed the album as a double album, releasing it with the premise that the album reflects the two primitive emotions: happiness and sadness. The first seven songs, part of the ‘Happy’ section, are reflective of Circa Waves’ earlier work, and draw on influences from fellow Liverpool group The Wombats and American outfit The Strokes.

"Circa Waves test the limits of their musicality and move away from the indie rock template with reflective, ballad-like tracks."

Circa Waves certainly play it safe here. A cynic would say that the first few songs are all bad impressions of their iconic track T-Shirt Weather, but the composition is excellent and these songs would almost certainly translate well live. They use the same techniques that gave them so much attention in the first place: catchy melodies, effective harmonies and electro-acoustic sounds characterise these tracks, with Wasted On You probably being their best offering on this side. However, there is a dynamic shift in style as the album progresses into the second phase which is what gives this album a cutting, driving edge.


The second part of the album, ‘Sad’, focusses on more depressive, sombre themes and it is certainly an indication of Circa Waves’ creative ability and musical diversity. The contrast to the earlier upbeat style of the album is startling, making it all the more captivating to listen to. Circa Waves test the limits of their musicality and move away from the indie rock template with seven reflective, ballad-like tracks.

"Sad is fundamentally fascinating to listen to, incorporating a wide range of themes and musical styles."

The start of the track Sad Happy is surprisingly similar to Coldplay’s Charlie Brown and the second part of the album has musical links to the likes of Blossoms, Declan McKenna and Coldplay’s earlier work. Yet overall, it is very difficult to find fault with the second side - ‘Sad’ is fundamentally fascinating to listen to, incorporating a wide range of themes and musical styles.

Image credit: Circa Waves

Artistically, the second part of the album is masterful. It is difficult to review the album without acknowledging the brilliance of Train to Lime Street, a wordless, phenomenally produced interlude that draws on classical acoustic guitar, trance-like piano chords and real-life soundbites. Train to Lime Street embodies ‘Sad’ perfectly: effortlessly enchanting yet fuelled with emotion and thought.


By creating an album with such a stark musical shift in the middle, Circa Waves were always taking a risk. Yet it has paid off massively, with Sad Happy being an well-crafted blend of optimistic indie pop and philosophical acoustic brilliance. In a word: incredible.