NPR All Songs Considered:
"Hilarious and irreverent."
THE NEW YORKER:
“Sharply satirical power pop.”
"JHC&t4HotA are a New York band whose cleverness extends well beyond their name (still funny after two full-lengths) and into their songs, which combine the dead-on working-week details and pop chops of Fountains of Wayne with the inspired silliness of an especially strong SNL skit. Their second album begins with "Liz the Hot Receptionist", who probably goes out for happy-hour margaritas with "Denise" and "Stacy's Mom." Despite documenting the ticky-tacky details of the character's life ("She met a guy in real estate / He put her name on his license plate"), singer Risa Mickenberg only occasionally sounds mean-spirited but never sounds condescending. The song, like the others on the outfit's second self-released album, is half comedy sketch and half anthropological study, as if Mickenberg is trying to figure out what it's like to be a bubble-brained receptionist or a local drunk ("Alcoholics in My Town") or a fall-back boyfriend ("Back Burner Guy") or the woman who recommended an Yma Sumac record ("Julie on the Fung Wah Bus").
What she knows is how to be an intelligent, professional woman in New York, good at her job but less so at relationships. Her frazzled demeanor-funniest when she's needlessly self-deprecating-is what makes her attractive and human: She's the Liz Lemon of indie pop. "I hope you're happy, but not happier than me," she sings on "I Hope You're Happy"; it's a funny line, but as Mickenberg rifles through the memories of a long-dead relationship, it becomes deeply sad. But not sadder than "I Miss Your Arm." "I'm Around" degenerates into a spoken-word bit about all the embarrassing answering-machine messages she leaves for a guy who's obviously not interested. It's a tired gag (and who has an answering machine anymore?), but she infuses it with a palpable desperation that's no less affecting for being predictable. Mickenberg's music is shot through with a touch of comedy that is shot through with a touch of tragedy that makes Happier Than Thou sound edgier and more substantial than your average joke-cracking band. And who doesn't love a surf-rock song about Googling yourself?"
BLENDER MAGAZINE - Robert Christgau ****
"Sexually experienced Manhattan SWF seeks companionship- really wants to talk about it: Backed faithfully by an all-male septet that injects stealth hooks and four horns into its accomplished theater rock, Risa Mickenberg speaks for the neurotic women on whom neurotic men blame their problems. A satirist who aimed for laugh lines on Jesus's 2006 debut, she's both sharper and nicer here. Though "Liz The Hot Receptionist" is incurably dim and anyone willing to stay on ice as Mickenberg's "Back Burner Guy" has only himself to blame, the missed connection of "Julie On The Fung Wah Bus" is a romance disguised as a spoof, and you'd have to be meaner than Mickenberg to mock poor Monica, the character whose answering-machine entreaties provide the entire lyric of "I'm Around." Mickenberg has the kind of cutesy voice that jerks find annoying unless it comes with porn skills. Non-jerks who go for the brains it masks stand a chance of being remembered as fondly as the lost of of "I Hope You're Happy."
JHC&T4HOTC blew onto the scene in 2006 with “Connecticut’s for Fucking,” a sublimely silly/clever joke custom-made almost solely for self-aware tri-state area NPR listeners… that just happened to be one of that year’s best singles. Their eponymous debut was full of sharp, goodnatured gems that held up over repeated listens. Album Number Two, Happier Than You mines the same territory—clever people writing songs about sex and relationships, backed by big guitars and, uh, four hornsmen... Co-writers/singers Risa Mickenberg and Joel Shelton still have a short story writer’s knack for pith and detail, as well as an incisive way with a phrase—to wit, “You can stroke my ego, but that’s all,” Mickenberg teases the titular character of “Back Burner Guy”, and their combination of humor leavened with sadness, when it clicks, rivals that of smart-alecky power pop standard-bearers Fountains of Wayne (see JHC’s “Bright Future in Sales” re-write, “Alcoholics in My Town"). ..Sonically, the band sounds great, with elements of surf, power pop riffs and steel guitar cushioning Mickenberg’s bright, brassy voice...
75 WORDS OR LESS
"Imagine that Sarah Silverman never decided that saying "fuck" and shocking people was clever, and it actually made her funnier. And then while working on Mr. Show, Jack Black played her a Tenacious D demo and she decided to steal the idea and rework it as horn-laden power pop. That's basically what we've got here, and it is fantastic."
MY CRAZY MUSIC BLOG
"Perhaps more intimidating than Jesus H. Christ and the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse's portentous name is the collective musical experience represented by the approximately 8+ piece band, and as a reviewer I hesitate to attempt an adequate description of the ribald intelligence clearly manifest when musicians who have played with artists from Prince to Elton John join others who include Broadway performers, a recipient of the Pushcart Prize and the author of the book Taxi Driver Wisdom. The seemingly incongrous list of descriptors that the band offers on their website, featuring more nouns like "compassion fatigue, boobs, Old Lyme, and widower-lust" than typical promotional adjectives, implies both their winking sense of humor and allusive creativity. Happier Than You is accordingly flippant yet shrewd; too burlesque to be severe, yet too smart to be trivial.
Much like the similarly theatrical World/Inferno Friendship Society, the acronymically daunting JHC&TFHotA creates a specific band identity and internal culture comprising idiosyncratic narrative vignettes. Songs like album opener "Liz the Hot Receptionist" work in part because listeners recognize the stereotype of the attractive secretary who buys Sudoku on her way to work and eventually marries a real-estate agent. "Alcoholics in my Town" collates various personalities affected by the titular habit before chorusing across brands of liquor and ending in some of the most sardonic "ba-ba-ba's" this side of the But I'm a Cheerleader soundtrack. Most songs present their subjects through this satirical lens, either advocating "a brand new surfing sensation/for the sedentary generation" on "Vanity Surfin'" or celebrating the simple fact that a formerly celibate woman was finally able to "get her rocks off" on closer "Dry Spell." Even the album's most overtly self-loathing track, "Pathetic," lampoons its piteous narrator with mock questions like "Do you hate me for asking if you hate me?
Yet, all the derisive witticisms of a late George Carlin act may not always constitute a successful music album, and fortunately JHC&TFHotA supports its lyrical acumen with rousing horns and a powerfully voiced female vocalist who leads the whole procession as if they were in turn helping her lure a cartoon wolf listening with his tongue on the floor. The trumpets and trombones accent rhythmic guitar work that transforms styles between bouncing ska riffs, punk distortion and a little bit of surf, while pedal steels, upright basses, and the sound of tap dancing all add to the carnivalesque atmosphere. At times I was left hoping that some bittersweet moments had been extended further, such as those slightly melancholy details mentioned at the beginning of "Liz the Hot Receptionist," and occasionally the band's irreverent personality seem lacking in sympathy for the characters it creates. The searching specificity of these comments, however, indicates how rapidly this collection of talent has then realized its singular identity."
JHC&TFHotA barf their guts onto the table with HAPPIER THAN YOU: a heart-pounding tour de force that distills the modern human condition into 13 uncomfortable, laughable, individually-wrapped slices.
This CD lets rip a fury of absurd musicianship, with painfully true lyrics awash in celestial harmonies, signature, horn-fired sarcasm and hooks that stick like the barbs of an erect cat penis.
In these songs, you’ll experience the sting of self-recognition, the icy tongue of truth, the kick me sign of stupidity, the thrum of sexual release, the exquisite tension between why me and why not me.
Fanfares to jangle rock. Cumberland Farms to Co-op boards. Answering machines to the Fung Wah Bus. Power chords to cabaret. Sudokos to Sikorsky. Insecurity to Ambition.
You’ll recognize yourself, the people you make fun of, the people you want to sleep with, the people you pushed down a hill in a port-a-potty when they were drunk.
They’re all here on HAPPIER THAN YOU, a veritable terrarium of life as we know it.
JHC&TFHotA is post-modern apocalyptic highbrow, horndog, genre-bending power-punk that’s not afraid to laugh at others, at itself… and at you. And, with this new CD, they’re not afraid to feel. To be hurt. And to hurt back.
This action-packed collector’s edition, eco-friendly “object d’art” (you have to see the CD itself: it’s so conceptual that you’ll crap your slacks)- is bulging with deep-thinking classics including:
1. Liz The Hot Receptionist- a raging, yet poignant character-sketch about the ubiquitous hot girl at the front desk.
2. Back Burner Guy- Gives a name, and an anthem, to those guys who are benchwarmers for our hearts.
3. Jill Used To Be Normal – An ode to the pain of teenage-hood.
4. Julie On The Fung Wah Bus- a Sapphic love story based on a Craig’s List Missed Connections posting.
5. You’ve Gotta Have A Dream- A timeless spur to ambition, with tap dancing.
6. Vanity Surfing- A landlocked surf song about googling yourself.
7. I’m Around- An epistolary answering machine stalking. You’ll never leave a message the same way again!
8. The Vixen- an instrumental rager, itching to be the next James Bond soundtrack.
9. I Miss Your Arm- A poignant new jazz standard about missing someone…selectively.
10. I Hope You’re Happy – A brutally honest valentine to an ex.
11. Alcoholics In My Town- A clear-eyed portrait of small town life: The feel-bad party hit of the season.
12. Pathetic- A blistering, triumphant anthem to self-loathing.
13. Dry Spell- A symphonic, psychedelic heart-stopper about sex after a dry spell. Break out the headphones, stoner!
JHC&TFHotA are a bawdy conglomerate of writer, musicians, and fine beer drinkers. When they’re not frittering away their talent on this band, they’re playing with Prince, Elvis Costello, with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, at Lincoln Center, under the direction of Leonard Bernstein, and all over the Great White Way, a.k.a., Broadway. Literary credits include fiction in Vice, Purple Magazine, The Baffler, a Pushcart Prize, and the book Taxi Driver Wisdom. One "member" invented a delicious beer called High & Mighty.
So much (wasted) brain power. Yet we humbly heap our riches at your feet. And urge you to pumice.
Oh, you! You’re so cute when you’re reading. And when you slide your credit card out of your wallet…it makes you look so powerful!
Maybe you’re totally going to hate us (see Track 12) but we read a quote recently that justifies our existence a little bit.
"Is there upon earth a more potent means than laughter to resist the mockeries of the world and of fate?" - Bonaventura
And this one, from Nietzsche:
"...for in laughter all that is evil comes together, but is pronounced holy and absolved by its own bliss; and if this is my alpha and omega, that all that is heavy and grave should become light; all that is body, dancer; all that is spirit bird -- and verily, that is my alpha and omega: Oh how should I not lust after eternity and after the nuptial ring of rings, the ring of recurrence?"
So transcend the absurdity of existence with us. Take our hands. Tra la la. Let’s run through the meadow of wage gaps and injustice and let’s talk about everything and let’s laugh until our faces are wet and then let’s hug. Tightly. Tightly!
And here are reviews from the our debut, self-titled CD which you can, and really ought to buy at:
THE NEW YORKER
"This lovable local band transcends the novelty of its name with wry, thundering power-pop songs about such previously underexplored subjects as the boredom of living in the Constitution State (“Connecticut Is for Fucking”), the appeal of the recently widowed (“Do Me”), and how pharmaceuticals can help love (“Happy Me”)."
Top 10 CDs of 2006
"In a perfect world, this would be the Saturday Night Live house band, and reason enough to start watching Saturday Night Live again."
NO DEPRESSION (David Menconi): "Picture NRBQ with a metallic pop edge and an expanded horn section, fronted by a singer who looks a bit like Julia Louis Dreyfus, sounds a bit like Sarah Vowell and writes a bit like Amy Rigby only much nastier. There you have this wonderful New York band, who will completely rock your world. Risa Mickenberg and Joel Sheltons songs are side-splittingly funny, starting with Connecticuts For Fucking (because its a place where thats all there is to do) and its turn-on-a-dime shifts between metallic snarl and acoustic jingle-jangle. Happy Me cops the Beatles Nowhere Man guitar riff for a bridge. Vampire Girls rollcalls the slyest geek-culture hall of fame this side of High Fidelity. And weve had great fun in my social circle debating which acquaintance is most like the shrewish hellion in Obviously. Best of all, the music holds up after the laughter subsides."
THE VILLAGE VOICE (Robert Christgau) A MINUS
Risa Mickenberg writes and sings satirical theater songs accompanied by g-b-d-and-sometimes-k, two trumpets, and two trombones. All assume the p.o.v. of a neurotic young professional woman—loan officer, publicist, social planner, perhaps even actress—who may be Risa Mickenberg. Some of these songs are funny, the rest very funny. "Connecticut's for F*cking" seems self-explanatory, "Ellen's Bicoastal" cl*se enough; "Happy Me" is about falling in love on meds, "Vampire Girls" about sucking knowledge from your boyfriends. The jewel is the jealous fit "Obviously"—"I don't care. I mean I think she's a skank, but whatever, I don't care. I just don't see why you're denying it when it's obvious you two slept together . . . "
TROUSER PRESS (Ira Robbins): "Sardonic adult humor in music is amply illustrated by this entertaining New York octet (half of it being the Four Hornsmen, who add to, without ever overwhelming, the simple rock music with brass). Delivered in Risa Mickenberg's winning matter-of-fact voice, "Connecticut's for F*cking" is hysterical, a deadly putdown of the Nutmeg State as a nadir of middle-class tedium that proffers copulation as the only entertaining alternative. And "Vampire Girls," which passingly sounds like the Replacements' "I Don't Know," explodes the little-known problem of women "who seem like they're really cool until you realize that everything that's cool about them is something they sucked out of their ex-boyfriends" with a laundry list of modern-trendy Henry Higgins acquisitions, from Balzac to Karen Black, Iggy Pop to Photoshop."
THE TUCSON WEEKLY: (Linda Ray) "If you read and loved A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES or A HEARTBREAKING WORK OF STAGGERING GENIUS, this record is for you.... A collection of intelligently observant and wryly amusing pop/rock/punk takes on gender politics (read: sex and its complications), the state of the United States (especially Connecticut) and certain everyday characters and their quirks. All are set in fine musicianship, with Brian Wilson-worthy harmonies and imaginative arrangements."
POP MATTERS (Jason MacNeil)
"JHC&TFHotA are an odd blend of Sixpence None the Richer, Arcade Fire, and New Pornographers if they were all fronted by Amy Sedaris. “Connecticut’s for Fucking” is a hard-the-soft-then-hard power pop tune that talks about the Nutmeg State with sweet, sugary harmonies in the chorus as she simulates what Robin Williams once described as “the bone dance”.. Mickenburg nails the conversational and brassy rocker “Obviously” with a Lou Reed-like charm. A lot of the songs would be great on Desperate Housewives, particularly the opportunistic and cheery “Do Me”. .. The summer-sounding pop of “Vicki Is a Pro” is great, resembling a cross between the Cars and the Go-Gos. Ditto for the fabulous “It’s OK in the USA”. “Vampire Girls” name-drops Syd Barrett, Tiny Tim, Malcolm X, and others while the punk riffs blend with horns. Another highlight is the rather mainstream bubblegum pop of “Ellen’s Bi Coastal”. “Steve Baylor” has to be one of the oddest, Zappa-like tracks of the year, and “Nipples” is a modern day hit the Turtles failed to get around to."
THE VILLAGE VOICE- GEORGE SMITH: "An eight-person horn-fired local group making glorious hard pop!" “Hammering punkarama, namechecking Saul Bellow, Philip K. Dick, and Jerry Lewis.” “Horns and guitar drive a tank made of suntanned California riff right out of the speakers.”
TUCSON WEEKLY- LINDA RAY: "If you read and loved A Confederacy of Dunces or A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, this record is for you. This is not loud, mad music, though, nor is it as frivolously confrontational as the band name, or the equally stupid cover art. Rather, it's a collection of intelligently observant and wryly amusing pop/rock/punk takes on gender politics (read: sex and its complications), the state of the United States (especially Connecticut) and certain everyday characters and their quirks. All are set in fine musicianship, with Brian Wilson-worthy harmonies and imaginative arrangements. (The timely entry of horns on "Do Me" made me laugh out loud.) Lead singer Risa Mickenberg's voice is peculiar in a way that's perfectly suited to the lyrics, all written by Mickenberg with guitarist/vocalist Joel Shelton. Favorite track: "Vampire Girls"--fascinating women who only know what ex-boyfriends taught them about."
IDOALTOR.COM -Brian Block- #3 BEST ALBUM of 2006
"Jesus H. Christ and the Four Horsemen (sic) of the Apocalypse, who make sure to title their first song "Connecticut's for Fucking" lest anyone mistake them for Christian rock, have learned their trade from Revolver, garage-rock, jangle-pop, synth-pop, performance art, and apparently "Girl from Ipanema". Because all of their songs are funny, and because the two funniest have over-the-top spoken-word vocals that I'd feel nervous about putting on a mixtape for frequent replay, it took me awhile to recognize their debut album as truly brilliant. But if suburban ennui can be art in the hands of the Stooges or the Replacements, if relationship dysfunction is a good enough topic for Bob Dylan or Big Star, if Lou Reed and the Rolling Stones are allowed to complain about weird girls and Talking Heads to celebrate the quirks of American culture, I see no reason why JHC&4HotA can't win awe for doing all the above while being just as emotionally on-target _and_, at the same time, as ridiculous as we know (in our wiser moments) the emotions themselves are."
BOSTON HERALD: "Hilarious!" "Deadpan!" "Love!" "Nervy and mighty amusing!"
PHOENIX NEW TIMES- Nikki D'Andrea: EDITOR'S PICK "Once you've heard "Connecticut's for Fucking," the leadoff track to JHC&tFHotA's debut album, there's no denying this band's snarky brilliance. The song's ridiculously catchy pop beat; dorky, nasal punk vocals (courtesy of the surprisingly sexy Risa Mickenberg); and lampooning of noodling '80s metal guitar solos is like a bubblegum enema flushing pop punk out of mainstream music's bloated colon."
LEICESTERBANGS (U.K.): "Like asparagus, olives, Zappa and cum, Jesus H Christ are an acquired taste."
HARTFORD COURANT (COURANT.COM)
"The lyrics and subject matter are off-kilter, but they're mostly smart and, to my ears, pretty funny, and the musicians have serious chops. And, as the band's name implies, there's plenty of dizzying horn work on the album, mixed with pounding bass and snarling punk guitar riffs. (The album) also features songs about anti-depressants, seducing the bereaved and psychic vampires: "Girls who seem like they're really cool until you realize everything that's cool about them is something they sucked out of their ex-boyfriends," be it how to fix cars or appreciating the music of Syd Barrett.”
THE NEWS OBSERVER (Raleigh, Chapel Hill, NC)
“The comedy record of the year, with side-splitting musings on life, love and the pursuit of happiness set to razor-sharp bar-band pop-rock. It's smart, it's catchy, the music is great.”
NEW YORK MAGAZINE: "Smart, catchy power pop!"
F5 WICHITA Tom Hull- : "Anyone who fondly remembers the Waitresses will have a leg up on this smart, funny, and exuberantly horny band. Not sure whether the difference is a generation of progress in spite of backlash or just that lead singer Risa Mickenberg writes her own lines. Her critique of "Vampire Girls" is spot on, like she's been one and graduated to being interesting in her own right."
Delivering uneasy laughs at the expense of strip-mall culture alongside power chords and pop hooks, "Connecticut's for Fucking", by the New York outfit JHC&tFHotA could easily have been a hipster insider's mean-spirited and elitist satire of yokel outsiders. Instead it comes across as something much more complicated than simply making fun of people who aren't from New York. Sounding a little like Amy Sedaris fronting Fountains of Wayne, Risa Mickenberg …sings from the perspective of one of many teenagers whose only pastime in such a dull state is recreational sex. She delivers lines like "I love to listen to classic rock and have sex with you" with a mix of playfulness and resignation, and introduces a little gravity into the band's humor: all those adolescents, she observes, are "waitin' to turn into the people we are bound to turn into." There's a healthy dose of incisive class commentary as well: "If we can't afford to buy antiques," she sings, "then we just copulate." "Connecticut's for Fucking" sounds more substantial than a novelty track, but with all the catchy fun that label implies.
THE BOSTON GLOBE: “The most raunchy fun!”
THE CAPE CODDER- Don Wilder: "Like Zappa, they'll shock a certain percentage of the population - and absolutely delight the rest of it."
TIME OUT NEW YORK: (STARRED REVIEW) “Not just a carpenter and a compassionate religious icon, Jesus H Christ is also a novelty-pop band fronted by the delightfully baby-voiced Risa Mickenberg who sings in sugar-sweet tones about being courted by the crazy guy down the street. Consider it the musical equivalent to Strangers With Candy.”
THE NEW YORK PRESS: "Jesus H Christ mock all things sacred!”
THE BOSTON METRO "Jesus H Christ and the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse are hilarious!"
THE BOSH: "It's time to open your hearts to Jesus. Jesus H Christ, the totally awesome band...really does rock."
BOSTON PHOENIX: "Amy Sedaris!" "Upscale!" "Sequined!" “Plenty of laughs!” “Bald!”
I GUESS I'M FLOATING:
"The happy spirited band from New York take humorous, albeit true, lyrics and weld them together with music that can only be classified as power pop. With a lead singer that may remind some of an adolescent Jenny Lewis, the band claim to be "bald, horny, thundering, glorious, deadly, lovable and sardonic!" The eight-person ensemble sings about leaching shallow girlfriends, the snags of living in Connecticut, synthetic feelings via prescription drugs, and the sex drives of widowhood. Go on, start your weekend off with a smile."
SOME BLOG SOMEWHERE: "The most delightfully salacious female vocalist since Sippie Wallace."
This is not your grandma and grandpa's apocalypse. It’s no fire and brimstone, no seventh seal, no swaths of unholy agony punctuated by blessed souls surfing pillars of light "up there." This is pure power-pop apocalypse (say that five times fast, but we’re not accountable if you pull a muscle in your tongue). Jesus H. Christ and the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse write catchy, fun songs with plenty of trumpets. The most obvious comparison they invite is to They Might Be Giants but they also make me think of a Beulah and Nerf Herder hybrid running on unleaded petroleum goofiness. The bands real strength is in their lyrics, which deal with topics you'd never hear on the radio. (Though lets not forget trumpets, who doesn't love trumpets?) “Connecticut Is for Fucking” is an anthem for people in Dullsville, Anywhere and “Nipples,” in addition to being a great summery song, makes me think of the novelty classic “Boobs a Lot.” Check out the band's MySpace, and at your earliest convenience, start loving them.
TIMES OF ACADIANA
CHOICE CUTS "Admittedly, Risa Mickenberg's and Joel Shelton's funny, sardonic, catchy songs cover a narrow terrain -- call it the romantic complications of the Ritalin generation, a demographic cut loose from traditional moorings and for whom psychotropic opiates are the religion of the people -- but, Jesus H. Christ, do they understand their characters! Whether speaking for or at beer-leech women (Vampire Girls, Crazy Guy, Vicki Is a Pro) or a man who's lowering his standards (She's a Six), Mickenberg/Shelton's lyrics are detailed enough for accuracy while stopping just short of the "compassion fatigue" they sympathize with in It's OK in the USA. Some Days is even sweet, with the songs accompanied by brass suggesting musical affinities from three or four decades before lyrics like these would've ever been imagined let alone tolerated."
PAPER THIN WALLS: "You’ll be hearing (Connecticut's For F*cking) for the next 50 years on various Demento and Son Of Demento compilations and podcasts; but not only is it funny funny funny, the band takes care of the music, too: a great rattletrap of a guitar doing fast Ramones chords and then laying a big wet tuneful Johnny Thunders solo atop it all. Tracks.. twist the comedy from funniness to genuine emotion and rage. Most moving is "Obviously," Risa bitching out a lover—“You guys obviously slept together, not that I care; I mean, I think she’s a skank; but whatever"—which leads to a general smorgasbord of bitching: "Why do you have to drive like an asshole? You have to drive, like, right up on the person in front of you’s ass; they slam on their brakes, you’re dead!" She lets loose with the disappointment and fury that’s the undertone of this humor, when life doesn't live up to its billing."
Thank you for reading, listening and caring.
Love always, JHC&TFHotA