Whenever I listen to an artist for the first time, I always check his or her website and read the bio. Livan’s is certainly humble: “When creating music is a matter of survival, then the product is nothing less than awe-inspiring. As the phoenix who rises from the ashes to live once more, Livan’s eclectic music is the epiphany, which has allowed him to soar.” Wow. I haven’t read anything that overwrought since my first college paper, but to be fair, Livan does have an interesting story: he was born in Greece, where his father and grandfather were prominent politicians who were exiled, leading his family to relocate to England where Livan resented being the son of a hero. After turning to alcohol, drugs, and gambling, he ended up in prison and then addicted to heroin. He claims to have had an epiphany on a rainy Good Friday where he looked up at the sky and declared “This can’t be the end … life has to be better than this.” He turned to music and has been creating ever since, which is excellent news because while his album Happy Returns is not quite awe-inspiring, it is very good.
Livan’s music is industrial pop punk/alt-rock, and while it’s processed, it still sounds gritty, raw, and fun with crashing guitar and thumping basslines. It has a Depeche Mode meets Midnight Oil with a touch of Nine Inch Nails and Billy Idol kind of feel. Livan’s vocals especially remind me of Midnight Oil’s Peter Garret in terms of range and cadence while his lyrics most resemble a cranked Depeche Mode.
Most of the songs on Happy Returns are fast and intense, but the lyrics are often personal and sometimes tongue-in-cheek. From the title track, a song about losing control: “No way to resist the temptation…and a killer on the loose tonight...I wish you many happy returns.” “King of the World” is the most fun track, and I dare you not to move while listening to it and its amazing bassline. “Underground” and “Liberated Mr. Hyde” are other standouts, as is Livan’s cover of Tears for Fears’ “Shout.”
The two slowest songs, “Where I Bleed” and “Still Around” are both excellent and showcase Livan’s vocals perfectly as he gives them a vulnerability not found on the more rocking tracks. I especially love the slow build and gorgeous melody of “Where I Bleed.” “Ghost and “Kiss and Tell” are the weakest songs, but neither can be called bad.
Happy Returns is an indie album, and while the sound is raw enough, the first-rate production values and stellar musical work are impressive for a non-label album. I’ve seen Livan referenced as an electronic artist, but while Happy Returns has industrial overtones, it is much more alterna-punk than electronica. However you classify it, it is a very good disc and I think we’ll be hearing much more from Livan in the future.