Hailey, It Happens
Hailey, It Happens

Hailey, It Happens

Nothing good comes out in December, right? That’s more or less what most of the major music publications would have you believe, as End-of-the-Year lists start hitting the web in earnest earlier and earlier each year. This year, the start date was around Thanksgiving week. Maybe by 2026, we can make it all the way to Halloween! Personally, I’ll never finalize an AOTY list until mid-to-late December, and albums like Hailey, It Happens are Exhibit A for why that is. Not only was this record—the fourth official release and second full-length from Boston-based electropop duo Hailey, It Happens—a December 2nd release, but it’s also the kind of album that wouldn’t have sounded quite right until this particular time of year. On Hailey, It Happens, the band’s sound is driven by icy synths, yearning vocals, and wistful hooks built to come alive on the coldest nights of the year.

After the last Hailey, It Happens EP—2014’s triumphant Under the Brilliant Lights, one of the best short-form releases of that year—I wasn’t sure how the band could top what they’d already accomplished. Brilliant Lights was only six songs and 24 minutes long, but it did an expert job at distilling the key influences of band members Bobby DiBari and Chris Cleary down to a dynamic and versatile mix of sounds. Some songs leaned more electronic, while others captured the youthful escapism of early Springsteen and the drama of ‘80s power balladry. For an EP, it offered a surprisingly complete journey.

Blowing the proceedings out to 12 songs and 44 minutes, Hailey, It Happens is not nearly as direct or immediate as its predecessor. Allowed some extra time to spread out, DiBari and Cleary let themselves to luxuriate in ringing synth sounds and experimentation. It’s certainly a progression from Brilliant Lights, one where you can sense the same influences, but where they are also supplemented with new sounds and directions. For instance, it’s tough not to hear the opening synth notes of “Mill Street” as a nod to the similar opening of Journey’s “Separate Ways”—fitting, giving this band’s proclivity for ‘80s pop. The verses, though, take things in an unexpected direction, with Cleary singing in a funky falsetto more reminiscent of Prince than it is of Steve Perry.

Another influence that is still very present is Chad Perrone, a little-known Boston singer/songwriter that both Cleary and DiBari count as a favorite artist and a primary influence. Much of the record bears a striking resemblance to Perrone’s 2014 LP Kaleidoscope, also an aching collection of ‘80s-inspired pop. In a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming moment, Perrone actually shows up on album highlight “Thousand Mile Reach.” The guest feature isn’t listed in the tracklist, and most of the song sees Cleary taking the microphone, singing confessional lines for a person he loves but cannot save. “I want to crush your pain into a pill and swallow it, so you don’t have to,” goes the chorus. It’s not until the bridge that Perrone arrives, singing four lines repeatedly and adding power and force each time. When Perrone comes in with his gentle, broken falsetto, it’s a beautiful and unexpected moment. When he goes into the heroic belting voice that fans know him for, it’s chilling.

Getting Perrone to guest on their record is a clear dream-come-true moment for the guys in Hailey, It Happens. You get the same sense from the final two tracks—“Dreaming” and “27”—where Cleary gets to invite his dad to sing backup vocals, and where guest instrumentation (a trumpet on “Dreaming” and a saxophone on “27”) adds new layers and throwback dimensions to the sound. On the whole, though, what sticks out the most about Hailey, It Happens isn’t the guest appearances you’ll read about in the liner notes, but the growth in the songwriting. “Dandelion” and “Dreaming,” for instance, are perhaps the purest and most effective pop songs the band has ever written. The former ties growing up, the dissolution of a relationship, and the creeping decline of one’s hometown into an effective story song with a killer chorus. The latter has a thudding bassline and a late-night drive ambiance that recalls Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion album from last year.

Add the framing of two of the best songs the band has ever written—the Goo Goo Dolls-referencing opener “And Roses” and the climactic end-credits-roll of “27”—and Hailey, It Happens is every bit the complete journey that Under the Brilliant Lights was. It’s also an often heavy listen, particularly when Cleary is penning the lyrics. “27” might hurt the most, with a bridge that anyone who has ever lost touch with old friends (read: every person ever) will relate to. “So is this where we all end up, arms extended through the finish line?/We call our friends when someone’s gone and we relive the same old times/Like we died a long time ago.” It’s a sobering string of words to hear at any time, but especially right now, with the holidays fast approaching and in the wake of a year that has been dark and unsettling, to say the least.

For my money, “27” is  one of the year’s best songs, as well as a strong reminder to hold the people you love a little bit closer next time you see them. It’s also the capper to an album you’re going to want to have in your collection as snow shows up in the forecast and the temperature continues to drop. Suffice to say that, if you already made your EOTY list, you might want to think about revising it to slide this album into the mix.