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LUGGAGE - Happiness LP

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Chicago has always had a large contingent of musicians operating on the less-is-more principle. The city’s old bluesmen could imply a whole chord with a single note. Reductionist provocateurs like U.S. Maple or Shellac fought against rock n’ roll bloat. You can even look at the deconstructed compositions of iconic Chicago albums like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and see a definitive attempt at stripping away not just unnecessary adornments, but even some of the supposed load-bearing structural components. In that regard, Chicago trio Luggage serve as model representatives of their city, wielding the standard components of their trade—guitar, bass, drums—while stripping away any hint of excess until they arrive at the most austere manifestation of rock n’ roll: magnets picking up the vibrations of nickel-wound strings, wooden sticks striking polymer skins, laconic sung-spoken vocals. And on their fourth album Happiness, Luggage offer up their starkest work yet.

To a certain degree, the sonic brevity of Luggage stems from the disparate musical backgrounds of their members. The rhythm section of Luca Cimarusti (drums) and Michael John Grant (bass) came up through the ranks of the underground playing in noise-punk bands while guitarist/vocalist Michael Vallera cut his teeth in the world of experimental ambient music. These might seem like drastically different styles with diametrically opposed aims, but both approaches embraced minimalism. Across their first three albums—Sun (2016), Three (2017), and Shift (2019)—Luggage took post-punk’s tonal palette and frequency assignments and put it under a microscope. On Happiness, Luggage pushes even further into their ASMR-level hyper-lucid fixations, making every note and percussive strike feel like a definitive statement while simultaneously expanding their stylistic range. Their music has always had a feeling of existing in a kind of vacuum, and there’s ample reason for their new album to feel even more like a hermetic experience. “We wrote Happiness over the pandemic and it was largely the only interaction we had with people other than ourselves,” Vallera says. “It’s a very raw photograph of a particular moment in our lives.”