Roman Flügel: Happiness Is Happening
Dial Records

I'll admit that I came to Roman Flügel's Happiness Is Happening expecting a fairly standard collection of techno and house cuts designed with the dance floor in mind, even if the fact that the release appears on Dial Records should have led me to suspect otherwise. Regardless, the ten-track album (Flügel's follow-up to 2011's Dial debut Fatty Folders) emphasizes a kind of home listening brand of instrumental song-styled synthpop as opposed to anything so straightforwardly clubcentric; the full-length even includes a piece that could be categorized as krautrock as well as one that sounds like an unused track from an early Kraftwerk session. With years of experience under his belt as an artist (whether solo as Soylent Green or partnering with Jörn Elling Wuttke in Alter Ego), DJ, and label co-owner of Ongaku/Klang/Playhouse, the Frankfurt producer clearly knows what he's up to in this collection, where nothing happens by accident.

The dental drill synths that squeal throughout the back half of the opening “Connecting the Ghost” certainly suggest that Happiness Is Happening isn't interested in recycling established tropes but is instead after something more. That Flügel's primary focus is melodic pop is evident the moment the jaunty “Friendship Song” arrives with its bevy of synthesizers, some sweetly singing and others more textural in character. That aforementioned krautrock vibe surfaces within “Wilkie” in its motorik beat pattern, though one also detects a Kraftwerk influence in the twinkling synths that chime so gleefully o'ertop the pulsing groove. That influence is even more audible in “Parade” in its raw electro-funk beat and Trans-Europe Express-styled synth melodies.

Flügel doesn't wholly sever his ties to house and techno, however, as vestiges of the forms repeatedly emerge. Whatever its animatronic qualities, “Stuffy” still swings with forceful intent, its hammering bass drum a reminder that Happiness Is Happening isn't without its body-moving moments, while “Your War is Over” and “Tense Times” roll out lazer-focused grooves that are as funky as they are swinging. A strong rhythmic propulsion drives other tracks, too (see the breathless kosmische-techno workout “Occult Levitation”), though not to such a degree that one would label the fifty-five-minute collection a dance album. And to further the point, there's more to a given track than rhythm only, with Flügel giving equal attention to the songs' multi-layered arrangements and melodies. The music on Happiness Is Happening is unabashedly synthetic, with everything seemingly generated using said means, but it's neither cold nor alienating for being so, especially when Flügel's personality comes through so strongly in the compositions and arrangements.

October 2014