The Sidekicks - Happiness Hours (Cover Artwork)

The Sidekicks

Happiness Hours (2018)

epitaph Records

There’s a contentment riding your bicycle up the Short North on High Street in the summer. It’s hot, but in the Midwestern city summer way. With Columbus birthed in the Midwest during the rise of the auto industry, the lanes are wide enough so the cars driving by don’t stare you down. As you pass 5th Avenue, old dirt red brick buildings of years past turn into the boxed development of today. A breeze passes where Surly Gurl’s and Betty’s lived, the new apartments built under local officials’ bearish deals with big money, and watering holes like St. James Tavern with your memories pouring out of them. Living may not be easy, but at this moment life may not be hard. The Sidekicks’ Happiness Hours are the moments found in these thoughts.

Happiness Hours is the fifth full-length from the four piece hailing from Columbus, Ohio. It’s their most poignantly light album to date. Produced by John Agnello of The Hold Steady and Kurt Vile fame, The Sidekicks intersperse their carefree roots while exploring new sonic territory falling somewhere between Weight Of Air and Runners In A Nerved World. The album opens up with a double time kick and snare combo leading to a minute and half bouncer that finds them driving past a stadium attending to the needs of a friend’s pet. It’s genuinely both present and nostalgic, a state explored throughout Happiness Hours.

A connectedness exists throughout the album with singer Steve Ciolek referencing happiness hours several times during the 39-minute duration. It provides images of both simple moments and boozy early evenings. The lively guitars of Toby Reif and Ciolek have an easiness about them recalling early Built To Spill. The interplay is bouncy and light with drummer Matt Climer and bassist Ryan Starinsky shining through in subtle moments, particularly when they hit the midrange. The occasional tempered trumpet is also added into the mix. Agenllo’s production captures the mood exceptionally well.

There’s a straightforwardness in the lyrics not seen since Weight Of Air. References to Columbus, Ohio abound, whether it’s the aforementioned Ohio State University stadium, Summit Avenue, or heart-shaped state tattoos. These specifics are varied through a universality of scenes from early adulthood. Lead single “Don’t Feel Like Dancing” recites a litany of reasons for not joining a partner on the dance floor. Album standout “Medium In The Middle” has Ciolek “feeling like a rock stuck skipping on a great lake” passing on poppers at a party while Drake plays in the background. Closer “Happiness Hours” contains drifting thoughts at happy hours recalling giant white crosses found on highways. The chorus states “happiness comes in hours / distraction is a daze / lovers deserve flowers / love is just a phrase” while the verses give glancing nods to both career and a future with kids.

The Sidekicks’ have never felt more at home than during Happiness Hours. It sees a band known for evolving their sound continuing to grow as musicians. The Sidekicks have found contentment and want to share it. Happiness Hours provides a worthy summer soundtrack to humid Midwestern evenings.