By Daniel Rourke

I first came across power-pop trio Happy Accidents in 2015. They were opening a six-band bill featuring the likes of Doe, Hindsights and Prawn at Manchester’s ever-expanding Gullivers. After brashly – and quite drunkenly – shouting about how the band were “like The Smiths, but happier!” I wandered to the bar to find frontman Rich Mandell nervously ordering a tap water. He eventually succeeded on the third or fourth try, after a rather anxious encounter with the bartender.

This anecdote may have little bearing on the overarching lifespan of the band but it’s a moment that plays into many of the themes the band came to terms with on their 2016 debut You Might Be Right.

By the time that album closes, Mandell has taken the listener on a journey through his many hang-ups.  Whether tales of wanting the mundane to be thought of as exciting or simply hating parties due a lack of sociability, there’s a sense that many of the songs that found their way onto the trio’s debut were creations of Mandell’s from back when Happy Accidents was merely his own student project. Where You Might Be Right sees the musings of a graduate trying to understand their anxieties, the band’s second outing Everything But the Here and Now sees Mandell and his bandmates building upon existing themes, displaying growth as a band in the process.

There’s a maturity found on Everything But The Here And Now that we haven’t seen before from the band. That’s not to say the underlying anxiety isn’t there – because it definitely is – it’s just tempered by a willingness to grow. Opener ‘Nunhead’ sees the core themes of the record hit almost instantaneously, as Mandell reflects on past relationships and a place to which he can escape, before giving way to the raucous punk tones of ‘Wait It Out’.

That frantic unpredictability is indicative of what’s to come. One minute the band are playing out a synth-heavy dreamscape centred in the past and attempting to forget in ‘Float’. Then, on ‘Free Time’, they’re engaged in an indie-pop existential crisis that sees Mandell clambering to improve himself, whilst drummer/co-vocalist Phoebe Cross backs with: “I need cause to see/ it’s about more than me.”

Growth is central to all that happens on Everything But The Here And Now, whether it’s experimentation with sound, Cross taking a more central role within the band, or the subject matters tackled. Tracks such as ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ see Mandell disregarding his self-worth, only to come full-circle throughout the track’s winding verses, whereas ‘Different Views’ sees Cross battling friendship with people who have conflicting opinions: “Think about it, think again / I’d like to like you, can we really still be friends with such different views?” Both completely immerse their listener, with each narrator seemingly adapting throughout.  

This newfound self-confidence sees the band produce some of their best material to date. Opening with a progression that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Stone Roses record, the Cross-led ‘Text Me When You’re Home’ proves to be the perfect example of what the band can do when they’re comfortable in their own skin. As Cross deconstructs a walk home in which she is catcalled: “I walk home with headphones blaring, hope to God that they’re not staring / what’s happening in their minds to make them act the way they might.” The fear going through her mind is placed at the forefront as the track opens, before a critical dismantling of the situation. It’s a track that lives side-by-side with Camp Cope’s anthemic ‘Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams’ as a rallying cry to demolish misogynistic behaviour.

If You Might Be Right was the heartfelt introduction to a trio attempting to understand their anxieties, then Everything But the Here and Now is Happy Accidents owning their hang-ups head-on. While there are points within the storytelling in which the apprehension of old comes back to haunt both narrators, on this record they truly show what they’re capable of.

Closing track ‘Sink’ is the best example, as Mandell shifts the focus from his own mental health onto the intertwined relationship of both his own and his peers: “The panic upon your face took hold of your usual grace / when you asked for advice I couldn’t find the words to say.” The track provides a harrowing end to the album, as Mandell discusses his powerlessness, before closing on the sombre line: “is there a way that I can explain how much all those around you care?”. It’s here that you begin to understand Mandell and his state of mind throughout the album, as the lack of self-worth begins to fade and grow into hesitant confidence.

Happy Accidents have found their comfort zone, and it has allowed them to produce their best work to date. Every moment on the record is endearing, and showcases just why the trio are so highly thought of within UK DIY circles. There’s a charm here that is parallel to the likes of scene pacesetters Martha, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Happy Accidents started to attract similar attention to the Durham darlings off the back of Everything But The Here And Now.