Happy Family emerged from Japan in the early 1990s, with several questionably-legitimate tapes of their live recordings making rounds amongst collectors. They were eventually signed to Cuneiform Records, and released two all-instrumental CDs on that label in 1995 and 1997. Afterward, they took a long hiatus before releasing this year’s Minimal Gods.
Age has not mellowed the band, which consists of Kenchi Morimoto on keyboards, Takahiro Izutani on guitar, Hidemi Ichikawa on bass, and Keiichi Nagase on drums. However, it may have changed their focus a bit. Twenty years ago, Happy Family was a Zeuhl-influenced heavy progressive rock group, with compositional aggression and chops to spare. Today, they maintain their intensity, but come across as in a fusion-inflected math rock vein, reminiscent of Battles, Don Caballero, and even The Dillinger Escape Plan.
Still, the strains of Magma, Ruins, and Heldon can be heard in the background. Many of the tracks on Minimal Gods are based on short themes that are repeated in various ways by each instrument. This is a compositional style that harkens to recent Present recordings, yet less overtly repetitive.
While not straying all that far from their formula of two decades ago, Happy Family continues to please with their combination of joyful power and dexterous passion.