“Minor moods can be interesting more easily,” Christoph Prager — one-half, alongside Felix Wolfersberger, of the sound art project Mieux — says from his home in Vienna in response to a question about the mood of Are You Happy, the third release from Prager and Wolfersberger which Billboard is exclusively premiering today, who began collaborating together five years ago. There is a palpable, formidable joy that underpins much of Are You Happy, a sophisticated and complex playfulness. It’s childish and sweet and a little sad, like a Sunday afternoon in the grass, avoiding thoughts of school the next day.
Mieux’s home city is a character here too. The strength of its production scene, its experimental nature and fondness for rough-hewn found-sound aesthetics, jazz structures and sharp edges, bleeds through every page of the record. Prager says that credit for the vibrancy of the city’s scene should go to Dorian Concept, a fellow Austrian who rose to prominence through his own jazzy decoupage.
Are You Happy makes its strong case by traveling through rolling hills of polyrhythmic samples, added and built upon and removed and unleashed throughout the foreground. “I was really into this and still am, this gamelan stuff,” says Wolfersberger, explaining the inspiration behind the “old sound” character running under his record. But much of Are You Happy‘s emotional work is on on the ground level, or lower; the aching bass line on the record’s opener “Rush,” the synth-vocal chorus of “VDB.”
The strongest song of the album, though, may be “Fishing,” a mild anthem opened by the sound of a gurgling stream, chiptuned steel drums, muffled glockenspiel with a chopped and childish vocal sample for momentum.
“It’s hard to dissect where something comes from,” Prager says. “It evolves from our process of working together. We’re alone when we work on these — we’re not together in the studio. We add to each other’s idea, and this makes kind of interesting, these almost opposing poles.” From there, the pair sits down to edit their co-works — but keep in mind how they’ll bring it to an audience.
“After three or four shows it was pretty boring… boring for the crowd,” Wolfersberger says of the shows they played with just a laptop and no analog instrumentation. “It’s somehow more natural, more fun on stage,” says Prager. “The enjoyment for us is more important, the rest comes from itself. Are You Happy is built around our live set — we experimented with our songs live before heading into the studio, so they have this approach ingrained somehow. Grand chords had to be stripped down.”
Self-limited as it may be, Are You Happy doesn’t suffer any lack of ambition — just the opposite. What you hear is two very promising producers coming into full bloom, in lockstep with summertime.