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The Happy Fits Deliver Fresh And Snappy Pop On 'What Could Be Better'

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. The Happy Fits are a New Jersey trio featuring guitar, drums and cello. Rock critic Ken Tucker says these young men who met in college and formed their band just a few years ago are making some of the freshest, catchiest pop music around right now. The band's new album, its second, asks the musical question, "What Could Be Better." Here's Ken's review.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NO INSTRUCTIONS")

CALVIN LANGMAN: (Singing) Wonderin', waitin', lookin' up around the bend. Contemplating words I wish that I had said. I'll take the blame for not being all right. But something should change if all we do is fight. Oh, when? Oh, when?

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Sharp and snappy, the melodies of The Happy Fits are quick and concise. Their pleasure derives from the precision these 20-somethings exert in performing a series of songs about how tricky love and life in general can be. Consider the new spin the band puts on "Get A Job." No, not the 1957 No. 1 hit for the silhouettes but rather The Happy Fits' new take on unemployment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET A JOB")

LANGMAN: (Singing) I've got to, got to get a job. Your teeth have chewed me to the cob. I'm sure somehow I'll make my pay. Just give me five to lay my head. I don't want to go, darlin'. I got a whole lot of reasons to be home at the moment. I don't wanna go. I don't wanna go, darlin'. I don't wanna go. I don't wanna go, darlin'.

TUCKER: Well, the line in the chorus that goes, I got a whole lot of reasons to be home at the moment - that certainly sounds timely now, doesn't it? The Happy Fits are three clever fellows who started a band just for kicks while attending Rutgers University in 2016 and promptly dropped out the following year when they realized people really dug their sound. They quickly released their debut album in 2018, called "Concentrate." The band features Ross Monteith on guitar and Luke Davis on drums and is fronted by Calvin Langman, who sings lead, writes much of their material and is a classically trained cellist. You can hear Langman sawing happily away at his instrument in the beginning of "Hold Me Down."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOLD ME DOWN")

LANGMAN: (Singing) Voices that come rushing in like a 10-ton truck into soft cement. Now the words make sense, but I can't repeat because sense don't make what it used to be. I'm here my love, but I'm floating, baby. Hold me down tight when I'm losing my mind...

TUCKER: At one point deep into that song, Langman sings, I never cared for fancy art or poetry on old guitars. But he's being a bit coy. He did care enough for fancy art to study the cello. And if we interpret poetry on old guitars as an allusion to music that predates his birth, it's clear from his melodies that Langman is one very astute scholar. Many reviews of The Happy Fits over the past few years have compared their music to bands such as the Violent Femmes, Vampire Weekend and The Killers. But I hear their music echoing much further back to pop acts like The Turtles, Paul Revere & The Raiders and, in the case of this song called "Moving," the early Beatles.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOVING")

LANGMAN: (Singing) From you to me, I sense a little animosity. So stay away or maybe, baby, maybe you should stay. Don’t you make my heart beat faster. Don’t you make me mad. Doctor call the undertaker, this one might be bad. Won’t you love me all the time? Please don’t make this be goodbye. Darling, can’t you see that I would be so sad? I would be so sad. That would make me sad. So please...

TUCKER: Calvin Langman is a witty overachiever who had to rebel against his parents to form a rock band. He told an interviewer recently, I grew up in rural New Jersey and was one of three Asian kids in my high school. He went on to add, it feels really good to be someone that Filipino kids growing up in America can look up to. This is also a sentiment implied in the lyrics of the album's title song "What Could Be Better."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT COULD BE BETTER")

LANGMAN: (Singing) My heart keeps beating, and I'm getting scared. A pound, pound thumping trying to make me care. My heart keeps beating, and I'm getting scared. There's a hole in my consciousness where I feel I belong. Where'd it go? Oh, for now, my mind is dead. My eyes are red. I sit alone and watch the hours. What could be better? My heart keeps beating and...

TUCKER: This album clocks in at just under half an hour, but it gets a remarkable amount of work done in that time. It establishes The Happy Fits as first-class chroniclers of unrequited love and makes you, or at least me, yearn for that moment in the future when we can go see this band crank out these exciting songs live. What could be better? I honestly don't know.

DAVIES: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviewed "What Could Be Better," the new album from The Happy Fits.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA'S "DESAFINADO")

DAVIES: On tomorrow's show, the story of a company that was mining data on people in order to predict their behavior as consumers and voters as far back as 1959 - writer Jill Lepore says social scientists of the Simulmatics Corporation managed to get clients from the Defense Department to John Kennedy's presidential campaign before the company collapsed. Her book is called "If Then." I hope you can join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA'S "DESAFINADO")

DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham with additional engineering support from Charlie Keyer (ph). Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Lattimore. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA'S "DESAFINADO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.