It wouldn’t be a stretch to guess that Mukiss’s debut release, Happy Face, is the score to a derivative, coming-of-age, indie musical about a suburban white teenager’s dreams and the first romance that didn’t live up to them, who then decides that life is worth living anyway and looks forward to college. Either that or it’s something you might find someone singing along to at a karaoke bar on a Saturday night. Somehow, Happy Face is neither, but it sounds like it. It’s a stand alone album about disappointment and wishing you were somewhere else. Now, if that interpretation is true, the album’s title is ironic, which doesn’t seem to be lost on Caeleigh Featherstone, Mukiss frontwoman, as the album cover features her making the opposite of a happy face: an expression of listlessness that might be dangerously close to that of her listeners. With this irony, Happy Face suggests a kind of depth, despite the fact that its content doesn’t.
It’s not that coming-of-age stories about white teenagers in suburban America are not valid. It’s simply that they’ve been told so many times in only so many ways that it is our job, as listeners, to ask: what is this one doing differently? Why should I listen to this instead of watching Lady Bird? There is a discrepancy between the breadth of these choruses and the novelty of the feelings they express. That is to say that the high points of Mukiss’s tracks are consistent in their anthemic expansion out of the low points, but they glorify life experiences that, while important, are not as original as the music’s passion makes them out to be. It takes more than dramatic sounds to make drama believable.
However, the dramatically interwoven guitars, synths, drums, and vocals are orchestrated successfully and professionally, if unoriginally. There’s a bright spot at the end of “Body Lines”, when the tempo unexpectedly slows to a crawl and Featherstone’s melodious voice walks down the scale, around the drums, in such a way that the song is at once upbeat and sad. Moments of creativity such as this are few and far between on Happy Face, but they’re reassuring when they do appear.
For many listeners none of the above makes this music unenjoyable. Featherstone’s repertoire as a member of Foxing and Saintseneca, along with a slew of other acts, promises her a certain degree of success. Her synth-pop sensibility is well-received no matter how many artists try to recreate it. But this more directly indicates an artist playing for reception than an artist playing for expression. Either way, Mukiss’s groove is one that has already been cut.