After several listens to Spose’s new album, “Why Am I So Happy?,” I’m left with a bit of cognitive dissonance. For an album that’s so firmly rooted in 2015, so fully versed in social media and Kanye West and This Our Digital Age, it somehow feels as though it could have been released in 1996. It wouldn’t sound out of place on a mix tape featuring Weezer, Beck and Rage Against the Machine, and not just because there’s a song called “Alternative Radio” near the end of the album that’s a tribute to the all-but-dead medium. The sense of musical open-mindedness, of good humor, awareness, and inclusiveness with absolutely zero pretension is something that feels kind of nostalgic — in a good way.
“Why Am I So Happy?” is Spose’s, aka Ryan Peters’, best album. Let’s get that out of the way before I say anything else. In terms of overall creative impact, it’s his best. It’s accessible without compromise, it’s as smart and as funny as his other records, and it’s his most musically interesting, by far. If previous albums were more explicitly hip hop, “Why Am I So Happy?” is as much alt-rock as it is rap — those there’s plenty of 80s funk-inspired jams here, too. It has the looseness of a live show, the off-the-cuff nature of a jam session, and the intimacy of a late-night conversation after one extra beer (or other naturally-occurring chemical). Maybe it was the devastating tour van robbery last summer in St. Louis that took thousands of dollars of gear and the early recordings of what was to be this album. Maybe it was getting married and the birth of his second child. Whatever it is, Peters, somehow, is at once way more relaxed and way more focused with this one. “Why Am I So Happy?” is the album where Spose grows up.
Peters has always hidden social commentary and confessional details into songs that are otherwise party anthems. “Little Different/Obituary” is the theme song for every kid you knew in high school that floated in between scenes and never quite fit in with any of them — hung with the stoners, rolled with the metal kids, could dodge the punches from the jocks. The mid-tempo “Feels Alright,” featuring a vocal hook by Portland singer Kristina Kentigian, floats from a tour diary into a meditation on life and death with seamless ease. The title track might be catchy, but don’t be fooled — it’s a song about feeling guilty about having a good life when there’s so much suffering in the world. Album closer “Nobody,” with guest rapper Watsky, might be dressed up in braggadocio, but at its heart, it’s about hard work and the resolve to push on.
Even in between his bouts of seriousness, however, Peters can’t help but be funny. “Lies Song” is another entry into the hilarious Spose song hall of fame, up there with “I’m Awesome,” while “Thanks, Obama” hilariously throws the blame of POTUS for all of society’s ills back in the haters’ faces. The unabashed humor, the love for the little guy, the freewheeling stylistic turns and twists and the sneaky doses of societal critique make “Why Am I So Happy?” feel like an album from another era — and also something definitively 2015. Which, in its own unique way, is incredibly refreshing.
“Why Am I So Happy?” is available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon and at Bull Moose Music stores, and is streaming on Spotify. Spose will perform next on Saturday, Aug. 8 at the Asylum in Portland with rappers Chris Webby and Jitta on the Track.