The Happiest Days of Our Lives 2CD/2LP reviews
released November 2003
Billboard, December 20, 2003
What began in the mid-'90s as a post-high-school art project--the formation of My Favorite--has turned into something incredibly real. Hailing from Long Island, N.Y., the five members of My Favorite share a fondness for melody and melancholia, New Order and Saint Etienne. The Smiths, too. "The Happiest Days of Our Lives"--a compendium of the quintet's three EPs and brand-new material (as well as a bonus disc of 14 remixes)--is post-punk dance-pop with heart, impassioned lyrics saddled alongside the most sunny of early-'80s-etched instrumentation. The sublime vocal stylings of Andrea Vaughn and Michael Grace Jr. are tailor-made for such musical terrain. Tracks like "The Suburbs Are Killing Us," "L = P," "Burning Hearts" and the title track are as infectious as they come.
Ink19, December 2003
Next phase? New wave? Dance craze? Anyway...The continuing story of My Favorite.
If I seem to wax rhapsodic in what follows, I have my reasons. This band's music and I go back a couple years. Reviewing one of the three previously released EPs that alongside four new songs and a disc of remixes make up this album's content, I said: "The songs are not at all without moments to stir the blood of an old '80s man, but they also sound somehow slight... it seems likely that presented as part of an album, the whole experience might be more satisfactory."
I was right. The Happiest Days of Our Lives is 16 songs and 14 remixes awash in synthesizers, piano, skilled if artless vocals, treated guitars and programmed-sounding but apparently live drums. The synths are played by vocalist/co-songwriter Michael Grace, Jr., vocalist Andrea Vaughn and guitarist/co-songwriter Darren Amadio, the drums by the suspiciously named Todbot. The songs are veiled, beneath the waves, clever lyrics more heard the older the LP gets.
Caught unaware, "Rescue Us" could kill you because My Favorite is not of this era. This is the band for you if The Pacific Age ,Black Celebration ,Louder Than Bombs ,Substance , or (Duran's) Decade were ever your escape. Escape from the shadow of the bomb -- which makes a cameo appearance in the Double Agent remix of "Homeless Club Kids"-- or somebody's shade of eye shadow. Or just from somebody's eyes. My Favorite use the technology of past decades to make songs which they hope will last through the next, for Blue Girls and their boyfriends. The ones who spent entire summers "listening to The Black Cassette," in Grace's song of the same name.
This is music that matters to me. The songs have become requirements; Grace's obsessions suddenly seem to have become mine. The alien, the girl or boy "differing in nature or character typically to the point of incompatibility," to quote Webster's. "All of this snow just made us glow in the dark" is the final line of "Burning Hearts" and an evocative image of My Favorite's lyrical concept: The things that we thought made us cold actually made us special.
In my mind there is a John Hughes movie for all decades. In it, a teenage Helen Slater is constantly "Half There and Dancing" with James Dean to "The Suburbs Are Killing Us." Dancing in order to keep herself from going over the edge as they await the ambulance.
by Ben Varkentine
Time Out, New York, November 20, 2003
For the members of My Favorite, wearing their hearts on their sleeves just isn't enough: These high-school-chums-turned-reluctant-adults appear onstage sporting Sharpie-scrawled messages- REVENGE or KILLER -on their forearms, as if to ward off the normals at a basement beer blast. Not only did this band of new-wave-pop nostalgists never get over being outsiders, they actively cultivate that status. The Happiest Days of Our Lives, a double CD that brings together three previous EP releases and adds four new cuts, plays like a hits collection for the uninvited.
My Favorite has been crafting vibrant, New Order-informed bedroom anthems for nearly a decade, but this compilation includes the fivesome's most immediate work yet. The absurdly catchy title track finds singer Andrea Vaughn cheerfully exclaiming that "a talent for my own destruction is all I've ever known" over a swaggering guitar riff. The Happiest Days is stacked with many such memorable rallying points: the sulking disco confection "Homeless Club Kids"; the swooning, Smiths-flavored "James Dean (Awaiting Ambulance)"; the soaring fin de siècle triumph of "Burning Hearts." And, along with its penchant for irresistible hooks and superbly tight playing, My Favorite is showing signs of loosening up: The second disc is loaded with remixes from Future Bible Heroes, Soviet and more. by Kevin Wolfe
The Big Takeover, December 2003
This New York-based quintet is underrated, but not by anyone who's ever heard their records or seen them play live. Those people all know how great the band is. Their new Happiest Days collects all 12 tracks from the band's triptych of Joan of Arc-themed EPs, while adding four excellent new songs. On top of that, Double Agent has added a second disc of 14 remixed My Favorite tracks. Let's face it, regardless of the good intentions behind them, remixes are often indulgent space-fillers. It's not the case here, though. The reconfigured numbers constitute a whole new record. Phofo's remix of "Le Monster" may be the most interesting of the lot. The celebratory, carnival atmosphere it brings to this desolate tale of adolescent suburban ennui is incredibly listenablečand undeniably weird. by Terry Banks
Outburn, January 2004
Slumber party with Belle & Sebastian, the Cure and New Order.
My Favorite's Joan of Arc-inspired EP series has finally been compiled into a single fuss free disc. The three limited edition EPs blend together seamlessly, even with the addition of the tracks from the unreleasd 4th EP Famous When Dead. There are now so many good songs in this collection, it's hard not to pass out. Two of its greatest moments are the previously unreleased "James Dean (Awaiting Ambulance)" and "The Happiest Days of My Life." The former is so shimmering and beautiful, it must cause abdominal cramping or some form of adverse side-effects from repeated listening. The second disc is comprised of remixes from some impressive names like Future Bible Heroes, Soviet, and Flowchart. While the new mixes make a great soundtrack for buying expensive clothes in a hip store, they can't even begin to touch the original arrangements. My Favorite have avoided all the usual traps that bands showing influence of the 80s usually fall into, favoring a personal and warm sound in places rather than icy and detached. This collection is well worth it just for disc one alone, and is evidence that the have remained a secret for far too long.
by Michael Cameron
opuszine.com, January 03, 2004
In the past few years, groups such as Interpol, The Faint, Ladytron, The Postal Service, Figurine, Fine China, and a slew of others have received quite a bit of press (both good and bad) for reviving the ghosts of early 80s alterna-pop/new wave/post-punk/whatever. But My Favorite has managed to avoid the limelight, and yet laboring in relative obscurity, they've written some of the most stirring 80s pop to be written in the 21st century. In fact, of all the bands mentioned, this New York quintet might possess the most sincere and heartfelt interpretation of that hallowed decade's music as you're likely to find these days.
It's impossible to not hear the ghosts of The Cure, The Smiths, New Order, Joy Division, Echo And The Bunnymen, and The Field Mice (to name but a few) rattling their chains about in these 16 songs (not counting the stellar remixes on the second disc). And yet My Favorite, led by Michael Grace, Jr., play their music with such sincerity, conviction, and even sympathy that it's easy to overlook the fact that their influences are as obvious as the woozy melancholy that pervades their music. At times, they do it so well that it's tempting to think that they came up with the whole shebang, and that groups like Interpol and The Postal Service are ripping them off.
Musically, everything you hear on The Happiest Days Of Our Lives is exactly what you'd expect to hear. Take a moment, close your eyes, and picture the most perfect 80's song you ever heard. Maybe it's the one you listened to the summer you had your first crush, and as a result, your first brush with heartache. Maybe it's the one you and your friends traded back and forth on junior high mixtapes, when you all discovered Robert Smith or Morrissey and knew, beyond a doubt, that they would compose the soundtrack of your teenage years. Or maybe it's one that you heard once in some Brat Pack movie years ago and have been unable to track down, and yet just remembering a snippet brings back waves of nostalgia.
Whatever the case, My Favorite knows what it is, and with the aid of chiming guitars (think Johnny Marr), billowing synths (think "Disintegration"), and plenty of drum programming (think "The Perfect Kiss"), they've distilled whatever was good and great and nostalgic about those songs into their music.
At times, My Favorite's songs don't even seem to be real, but rather archetypes or templates for writing the stereotypical new wave hit. Everything - the bouncy synths of "Homeless Club Kids", with sparse, echoing guitars chiming throughout; the ringing guitars of "L=P" that curiously echo The Cure's Lovesong"; the dark, pulsing bassline of "Le Monster"; and more - seems to be polished and perfectly in place, almost too perfectly.
But what lifts My Favorite's music above bordering on cliche (or perhaps lets it plunge so far into cliche that the cliche inverts and becomes more original than before) are the band's lyrics, delivered in the detached-yet-aching vocals of Grace and Andrea Vaughn. Many of the lyrics are twisted and ironic, almost sordidly so - themes such as teenage rebellion, alienated youth, heartache, tragic romance, and mental issues are here in all of their glory - and really quite clever, but the true genius is the empathy with which they're delivered.
I've never known what it's like to go flying through a windshield and spend 5 years in a hospital, taking pills, masturbating, and getting dirty photos in the mail. But so help me if my heart doesn't skip a beat when I hear the band sing "I miss my friends and I want to go home/And I am tired of taking pills to make me feel better" ("Le Monster"). On the other hand, I do know what it's like to pine after someone I can't have, which makes lines like "I'm not a saint/I'm not a soldier/I'm just a picture frame that could not hold her" ("Half There And Dancing") resonate soundly.
The same goes for lines like "A talent for my own destruction is all I've ever owned" ("The Happiest Days Of My Life") or "Loneliness is pornography to them but to us it is an art" ("L=P"). I'm glad I'm not the only one who wrote such doomed poetry in study hall, and it warms my heart to finally hear it put to such exquisite music.
An essay written from the perspective of Joan Of Arc (apparently, the band's posterchild for misunderstood, alienated youth everywhere) is included in the liner notes. In it, the band makes some self-deprecating comments about their own music ("I marched halfway to hell through the pouring rain. But the boy and his lot stayed in their rooms, imagining the whole world was piled up against the outside of their door.") while also making what could be statement of purpose of sorts.
The imagined Joan Of Arc writes "They always knew there were things worth fighting for. They just never believed that they were one of them. They were almost invisible in the camouflage world of neon lights and vinyl siding. But I saw it all, how their war left them dark around the eyes." My Favorite's music ultimately describes this world of disaffected youth, this lost generation. And even while the catchiness and pop appeal of My Favorite's music often has me breaking into a wide grin and bobbing my head to the beat, I can't help but feel pity for the people in those songs.
Broken and fucked up individuals with battered stories - the band dedicates the album to "saints who recanted at the fire" and "the prince who left her to face it alone" - litter the streets of My Favorite's songs. Making them heroes, My Favorite renders their struggles against, and defeats by, youthful heartbreak and suburban ennui with cleverness and sympathy, even nobility.
It's both odd and refreshing to hear such heart and intelligence in pop music, and doubly so in pop music that echoes early 80's/new wave music (which has often been criticized, and rightfully so, as being plastic and artificial). But there is, undeniably, beauty in My Favorite's tales of loneliness and alienation... and most importantly, compassion.
And it certainly doesn't hurt that you can dance to them too, if you want to.
by Jason Morehead
Venus, January 2004
Not nearly as slavishly replicant-like in their Factory Records appropriations as Interpol, My Favorite's superior tunesmithing is instead compromised by a craven subtext of tract home weldsmertz . Songwriter/singer Michael Grace, Jr. simply tries too hard to attain the cool triptych of snottiness, wit and glamorous boho suffering vis a vis The Smiths/New Order/Bowie. But in their more authentically strange moments of The Happiest Days of Our Lives , the band pulls off something far more interesting, an adorably off JD surrealism filled with the "ghosts of dead teenagers" ("Homeless Club Kids").
Grace, keyboardist/vocalist Andrea Vaughn, and an able three-piece band spend too much time inspired by their CD collections. Jerky Ultravox rhythms are frequented. "The Suburbs are Killing Us" features phased legato strings straight outta Pleasure Principle by Gary Numan. Vaughn sometimes sounds eerily akin to Dubstar chanteuse Sarah Blackwood, but just as often, her chilly low soprano rescues Grace's precise melodies from way-lachrymose conceits about loneliness being an art.
It's when the going gets weird that My Favorite gets going. A refreshingly non-Anglo samba injection perks up the fetishistic teen operetta "The Black Cassette". The demented staccato guitar and doo-wop backing vocals of "rescue us" suggest Taking Tiger Mountain , but not too much. And the title track is a perfect balance of bluster, a simple lyric and smashing melody.
With such an effortless-sounding melodic gift, one hopes that Grace and crew will eventually smash their idols. It's a stay-tuned situation. Meanwhile, Happiest will leave listeners on a weird precipice between pop delight and embarrassed exaltations of "sheesh."
by Ian Grey
rollingstone.com, December 10, 2003
The Long Island-gone-Brooklyn quintet My Favorite use their time machine to reach the past as well as the future. The group's cavernous reverb and hyperactive synthesizers define an Eighties retro-goth sound reminiscent of Britain's New Order that's in full wide-screen cinematic flow for the first disc of this two-CD collection, which assembles their first three EPs with four new songs. To retransmit their misty melancholic anthems into the next century, they mated with progressive remix engineers -- from Future Bible Heroes to Flowchart -- on this collection's bonus disc. Fancy knob-twiddling aside, the band's allure is the unusual upbeat baked into these sadcore retro-grooves. The title track could be a sarcastic, ironic statement of purpose, but their "nostalgia for meaningful things," which includes black anoraks and synthesized strings, creates enough distance from the music's initial inspiration to block the pain and allow them to bask in the unmitigated joy of melodies well-delivered. by Ron O'Connor
(Twin) City Pages, November 26, 2003
My Favorite are self-appointed martyrs of suburbia. Theirs is a frozen-in-time '80s disaffection that recasts teen alienation as timeless heroism, and depending on your high school experience, maybe it was. There's a surface element to this in Michael Grace Jr.'s smarmy Simon LeBon-styled vocals and in the cold majesty the band borrows from Duran Duran's sweeping keyboard sound, which drives "Burning Hearts." But the song's about Hiroshima--not the simple punk trope about walking like a zombie thru the post-apocalyptic Valley of the Valley Girls, but one where the image of dead teenagers kissing is burned into the ruined walls, transcending the tragedies of both murder and high school. This incredibly pretentious image is a keystone one for My Favorite, who stage noir with silent dialogue that tells you high school is death and pop songs are the afterlife. And beyond this, that pop music is a kind of purgatory truth: There's no half-allegiances here--you were born to die a teenager. Be a ghost or be boring.
Nice work, but if My Favorite want to be canonized they must, by definition, weigh in against previous saints. America's patron saint of gasoline, James Dean, gets some air time in "James Dean (Awaiting Ambulance)." But the band's newest touchstone is Joan of Arc: proto-riot grrl, sexy saint, and namesake of their EP Joan of Arc Awaiting Trial , which is collected here. And Joan of Arc was really just a 15th century French suburbanite who confused regionality and piety. A typical teenager. But in My Favorite's universe, she loves the way James Dean's car smells when the leather seats begin to absorb the heat from the engine. As they drive together, the suburbs become scenic. The radio is still mangled from the car crash, but there's nothing playing anyway. by J. Niimi
Newsday, November 13, 2003
Opening band My Favorite offered a similarly impressive set, charming the audience with electro-pop tales of monsters and teenagers gone awry, which are the main themes from the Long Island sextet's new "The Happiest Days of Our Lives" double CD.
Singer Andrea Vaughn exuded laid-back cool, as usual, especially on "Homeless Club Kids," when she's singing about the ghosts of dead teenagers serenading her on the dance floor. The rest of the band backs her up, conjuring gorgeous synth pop that sounds like it just rolled off New Order's "Low-Life" CD. Singer Michael Grace Jr. was quirkily endearing, balancing on one leg like a runner frozen in position, as he sang "Absolute Beginners." His abandon is refreshing, as is the band's unique combination of upbeat melodies and wildly inventive lyrics.
Like Belle and Sebastian, My Favorite is clearly in love with making music and eager to share that feeling in concert. With shows like this, it is useless to resist them both.
by Glen Gamboa
Long Island Press, November 03, 2003
(Rating: 9) Although the majority of songs on The Happiest Days of Our Lives have been previously released as an EP series, this collection from Long Island's My Favorite (vocalists/keyboardists Andrea Vaughn and Michael Grace, Jr., guitarist Darren Amadio, bassist Gilbert Abad and drummer Todbot) could be its defining moment. With a second disc of 14 remixes, it also unravels like a celebration of the band's past decade of romantic retro-futurist pop. Following 1999's Love at Absolute Zero , the first disc easily plays like a continuous second full-length, piecing together timeless themes of isolation and alienation. The unofficial fourth EP (dubbed Famous When Dead ) is four surprisingly gloomy new songs, including the heartrending "James Dean (Awaiting Ambulance)." Previously proven moments from the Joan of Arc EPs are the New Order-esque "Homeless Club Kids" (with the forlorn refrain "the ghosts of dead teenagers sing to me while I am dancing"), "The Suburbs are Killing Us" and the sentimental "The Black Cassette." The remixes are just as charming, with Future Bible Heroes, Soviet and other folks with computers composing and controlling rapturous beats and loops. Happy days are here again.
by Kenyon Hopkin
Amplifier Magazine, January 2004
With songs accented by shimmering synths that sigh with suburban ennui, this set by these New Order-influenced Long Islanders taps perfectly into the disenchanted club-kids sensibility. Lyrics like "Loneliness is pornography to them, but to us it is an art" and "The suburbs are killing us" - that could be straight out of Morrissey's diary played over Cure-like guitar -- make up for the few tracks that are either overproduced or overlong. A remix CD is included and it is, well, a remix CD. Although some of the songs benefit from the facelift - especially Phofo's rework of "Le Monster" and Soviet's take on "Badge" -- some lose their pop shine. by Natalia Cooper
Boston's Weekly Dig, January 28, 2004
Being young and from Long Island is hip all of a sudden when you hear the vocalizations of My Favorite's synth-pop gem, The Happiest Days of Our Lives . This dark new-wave compilation plays like a continuous full-length of the group's previously released Joan of Arc series of EPs, (the saint being an icon for the quintessentially unhappy teenager). An unofficial and delectably gloomier fourth EP, Famous When Dead , is included here as well. Delivering themes of isolation and alienation matched with upbeat tunes and sweet voices, My Favorite creates a pleasantly ironic group of songs that suggest dejected suburban dwelling can inspire beauty. Songwriter Michael Grace and band debut the harrowing "James Dean (Awaiting Ambulance)" (Jimmy "was my sacred disgrace") and return previously lauded tracks including "The Suburbs are Killing Us" (claiming "A pathetic mythology is better than no mythology at all") and "Homeless Club Kids" (suggesting the ghosts of dead teenagers will "be sad and young forever"). A bonus second CD offers 14 charming remixes, with collaboration from Soviet, Flowchart and others, namely Future Bible Heroes, the latter having a clear influence on My Favorite's compositions.
by Matuya Brand
While You Were Sleeping, January 2004
"I am smarter than you!!!!!!!!!!!!! Wittier too...Haha!!!!!!!!!!! And I write better songs, have better string arrangements, have better rhythms, took more drugs than you when I was young and stupid, and just am that much better than practically anyone. Well, yea, John Lennon's dead and Lou Reed's a burnout so...yeah, we're the best. Thank You. Have a delightful evening." Troy is led to believe it's true too. by Ortuzar & his friend Troy