November 14, 2014
by Bryne Yancey

It’s hard to center on the exact tipping point, but for over a decade now, guitar-based music has become largely antiquated in what’s considered the “mainstream alternative” landscape.

Turn on your local alternative rock radio station (if you dare), and between enduring staples like Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy,” Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” and Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So,” you’re likely to hear one of two loose subgenres: Rustic, rootsy type stuff with a lot of banjos and/or “hey!” chants (thanks, Mumford & Sons, thanks, the Lumineers), or electronic-based music full of canned drum machines, synths and loops (cheers, James Murphy). Banjo players, producers, programmers, DJs, these people are the new rock stars, not so much replacing the guitar heroes of the previous generation—most of them, if still active, end up grandfathered in—but squeezing enough room on playlists that leaves, with few exceptions, new rock bands on the outside looking in, faces down, axes in hand.

Here in the underground, though, we’re in the midst of something of a riff renaissance. A riffaissance, if you will. Everywhere you look, bands are breathing new life into what many above them see as an antiquated afterthought of an instrument, showing that sometimes a limited number of chords, that structure, can yield far more energy and creativity than a seemingly infinite amount of programming choices. One of those bands is Happy Diving. Hailing from California’s Bay Area and just over a year into their existence, their debut LP Big World is like ten vast mountains of always heavy, sometimes ugly riffing, each with their own selections of smooth and rocky spots.

Similar to the great California X, Happy Diving are able to expertly maintain their heaviness through infectious melody and distant, seemingly minimalistic lyrics. The interplay between guitarists Matt Berry and Matt Yanko is endlessly interesting and intricate through the distortion. Comparisons to early Weezer are likely to abound, but really, Happy Diving sound a little meaner, a little crunchier, and a little less awkward than that. They seem to be projecting outward, whereas Weezer’s music seems to perpetually project inward. Maybe they sound like Weezer if the members of Weezer had long hair.

Most of the ten songs on Big World hover around the 2-3 minute mark, ensuring that no riff is driven too far into the ground, but really, these songs would be just as engrossing if they were all 6-8 minute jam sessions. Maybe Happy Diving will end up getting weirder as they progress; either way, we should all be listening intently.

Big World is out now via Father/Daughter in the US and Art is Hard in the UK. Buy it here.