Review: Happy Meals – Fruit Juice EP

Happy Meals are an experimental electro-pop duo who are based in Glasgow but, like many of that vibrant city’s creatives, are firmly international in their outlook. Suzanne Rodden sings in both English and French and there’s a European disco flavour to the couple’s tangy music as well, not to mention an additional Californian Not Not Fun Records sunny vibe.

This is Happy Meals’ first release since their Apéro debut from November 2014 and, while that first one proved worthy of nomination for a Scottish Album Of The Year Award, the Fruit Juice EP sounds even more nonchalantly confident.

Basically serving as a lengthy intro piece, ‘Run Around’ sees Rodden singing its few lyrics inan almost wordless, spectral manner, bathed in retro keyboard beats, soothing waves of synth and a variety of luscious tropic-cosmic noises. This segues into ‘Lá Lá-bas’, which is similarly dreamy but with structured French-language lyrics and a greater tinge of melancholia thanks to its thinner, fragile layers of electro accompaniment. Percussion instruments chime, twinkle and croak, forming the branches of its audio hedgerow, as gentle key refrains patter in its shade.

Influenced by 80s Italo disco and modern house music, ‘If You Want Me Now’ is the EP’s most unashamed pop moment (although, perhaps paradoxically, it’s also the longest cut at a relatively whopping six minutes and thirty seconds) and comes flaunting seductive French verses and a catchy lovestruck English chorus. The next piece is a little on the brief side, basically serving as a between-course sorbet. It’s appropriately titled, however, as ‘Fruit Float’ is indeed fruity, floaty… and also flutey. Ambient synth sounds are combined with loopy backwards words and a flute solo, and it’s done to such pleasantly soothing effect that you wish Happy Meals had stretched this idea out a little longer.

Instead, they’re eager to dive straight into exposing their relatively more assertive side for the EP’s two final movements. The astro-thumping ‘Suivez-Moi’ carries a more sinister mood than its preceding numbers, yet you wouldn’t describe it as darkwave exactly, even if it does vaguely evoke early 80s Sheffield new wave groups. The final track is essentially a remix of ‘If You Want Me Now’, transformed into an aggressive, high-octane, oddball dancefloor banger.

From abstract and ambient soundscapes, through lopsided Europop songs, to upbeat wallops, Fruit Juice is a superb showcase of the sheer range of Happy Meals’ diverse talents but there’s also an intelligent coherence to the duo’s sound, and the act of nailing those two things is no easy feat. Certainly, the extra space provided by an album-length release would allow the pair to explore their many ideas to greater fulfilment. Indeed, like a grown adult who’s been served only a kids’ portion, Happy Meals leave you hungry for more. Hopefully next time they’ll offer up a super-sized helping.

Purchase the EP via Big Cartel.

Written by JR Moores