BY JENNIFER KELLY
Happyness is a trio out of South London, whose fragile, twisted little songs follow frosted-sweet melodic lines through corroded colloquial landscapes. Look up for orientation from the middle of Weird Little Birthday and the closest large landmark is likely Pavement, but you’ll also catch scraps of Wilco, Neutral Milk Hotel, Jesus & Mary Chain and Guided By Voices.
Weird Little Birthday threads a meandering way through a sort-of story about a boy who shares a birthday with Jesus (grudgingly), beginning with the tremulous “Baby Jesus (Jello Boy).” The cut is radiant, spare and lovely, with guitars that refract the light and whispery vocals that slip into your head. It’s also spiked with grit of daily life. Its line “I’m the motherfucking birthday boy, don’t steal my thunder, baby Jesus” is as a good a starting point as any for considering this band’s mix of profanity and surreal lyricism. That theme continues in the long, semi-title track “Weird Little Birthday Girl” with its endless “Girl from Ipanema” vamp that coalesces after three or four minutes into something like a song, though reduced to a fragile shadow of itself; you can see the sun shining through its melody.
Other cuts are more raucous. “Great Minds Think Alike, All Brains Taste the Same” is easily the most Pavement-esque cut, with its slack, sly guitar clangor, though “It’s On You” comes in right behind (not least because of its inexplicable koan “I just want John Coltrane’s retirement plan”). “Refrigerate Her” leans more towards Guided By Voice’s gleeful racket, and “Naked Patients” pits the breezy, guitar-strummed tunefulness of Summer Teeth-era Wilco against queasy lyrics about illness. Ed Harcourt, who mixed Happyness’ 2014 EP, steps up to sing “Pumpkin Noir,” but there’s no discernable shift in personality or timbre. The bemused oddity, the casual hookiness, the blurry glow of arrangements is all of a piece and distinctive from nearly anything else going on right now.
Weird Little Birthday is one of those albums that sounds like nothing much the first couple times you hear it, before you begin to lock onto the war between musical ease and lyrical dislocation. At some point, if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself humming along to lines that kind of bother you, slipping gradually into a world that is warm and inviting but also fundamentally off. At that point, Weird Little Birthday will be hard to shake — but you may not want to anymore.
DOWNLOAD: “Baby Jesus (Jello Boy),” “Pumpkin Noir”