Bug Hunter | Happiness (Without a Catch) (self-released)

When an artist tells you that their hope for their next album is that it “fits” with the past albums, it can cause a bit of distress. You badly want them to be happy with their album, and you (mostly) trust that at this point they know what they’re doing. Still, what happens if the album is so closely aligned with their previous works that you wonder if they weren’t all recorded at the same time? What if they decide they’re a completely different band now and their sound is unrecognizable?

With that in mind, when I received an advance copy of Bug Hunter’s fourth album, Happiness (Without a Catch), I was a little apprehensive. I had fallen in love with the mixture of guitar and tight, witty lyrics present on the previous albums. I was hoping that the band had shown some natural growth—but please, please don’t let them have grown so much I didn’t recognize them.

Thankfully, they managed to find that perfect spot where it would be obvious to anyone familiar with them that this is a Bug Hunter album—but there are new elements that add layers that weren’t there before. It’s not just that the music is more complex. While the addition of banjo on one song (“A Bedtime Story”) and brass on another (“Coward”) are welcome, there is also that ingredient to the music that you gain whether you want to or not, and that’s simply age.

One of the best songs on the album, “30 Plan,” tells the story of a 20-year-old protagonist who is in love with their friend, but when they confess their feelings, the friend tells them that they’re not ready for that kind of commitment. But, the friend tells them, they can get married at 30 if they’re both still single. The lyric, “you reach into your bag, full of things 20-year-olds think are good ideas,” isn’t something that could be written by a 20-year-old. In fact, the farther you get from 20, the funnier the song is, and as an almost 42-year-old, the song is both nostalgic for me (his name was Josh) and a reminder of how much I thought I knew then, when I really had no idea.

The song also features a magical, time-traveling toaster, just to make it clear that the band hasn’t gotten overly mature.

The album doesn’t focus on love lives—real or imaginary—which is one of the draws to Bug Hunter’s music. Another song that features a relationship but doesn’t make romance the focus is the aforementioned “A Bedtime Story.” The thing to keep in mind with this song is that the couple in the song are bears. Like, fur, big claws, can sometimes eat gophers and humans—those bears. The song, a jangly, shuffling tune, is presented as a bedtime story to an over-caffeinated kid, and shows that through compromise, you can accomplish anything—even eating humans while leaving their tent “looking pristine.”

The above song is laugh-out-loud funny, and you find yourself kind of rooting for the bears, but not all of the songs are happy. Bug Hunter doesn’t often have sad songs—but when they do, they’re not a little melancholy. They are the kind of songs that leave you crying in the grocery store (ask me how I know). The second-to-last song on the album, “Fan Fiction,” starts out sweet and somewhat romantic, but it becomes clear after about two-and-a-half minutes that the relationship might not have a happy ending. It’s the sort of song where you are waiting for the other shoe to drop and wondering how bad it’s going to be and while you’re thinking about it, it throws you over an emotional cliff. The raw pain that comes through is…well, enough to leave you crying in the grocery store. This does not, of course, stop you from putting the song on repeat because it’s so easy to love, despite it breaking your heart.

Overall, this is a solid album from Bug Hunter, one that arrived just when it should in the band’s discography. While the songs come from the same place as the previous albums, they couldn’t have existed on those albums. The band’s years of experience have paid off. These songs are brighter, more robust, and show that the band is just going to keep getting better. They had a sold-out tour this past summer, including a stop here in St. Louis, and if this album is any indication, they will be playing much bigger venues next summer and for years to come. | Teresa Montgomery

Bug Hunter’s Happiness (Without a Catch) is available on major streaming services, and physical copies on vinyl and CD can be purchased at bughunterbug.com.

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