Happy Birthday – Happy Birthday

January 01, 1970

(Sub
Pop)

 

www.subpop.com

 

With a
name like Happy Birthday, this Vermont
trio can’t be anything but upbeat. (It’s hard to imagine a band settling on a
name like that if they’re going for irony and playing something ugly and
doomy.) And these two guys and one gal are all about youthful exuberance. When
guitarist Kyle Thomas opens his mouth, he sounds like he’s either on the wrong
speed or never aged past 16. In keeping with the latter idea, the band doesn’t
sing about women, they sing about girls. In fact that gender term appears in
the first track (“Girls FM”) and returns a few songs later in “Perverted Girl”
and in several lyrics throughout the album. By combining that attitude with their
brand of spunky pop, Happy Birthday could be the closest Sub Pop has come to
Fastbacks since that band threw in the towel.

 

Well,
maybe.

 

Sometimes
all their ducks line up, and they build songs on ’60s girl group wall of
voices, which work well with the knotty guitars and nasal vocals (“Subliminal
Message”). It’s hard to tell if the high harmonies of “Maxine the Teenage
Eskimo” were lifted from early Who or Big Star, but the source isn’t as
important as the finished product anyway. A fuzzed out bass line boosts up the
matching vocal and guitar melodies on the ear-grabbing “Eye Music.” Other times,
though, the hooks don’t really hook or the band sounds too youthful in its lack
of depth. The aforementioned “Girls FM” doesn’t follow through on its promising
blend of guitar crunch and angelic vocals, and the chorus line that leads to
the title (“I’m always on the same frequency…”) sounds a bit puerile. “Fun”
concludes the album proving with a note of promise, though. Thomas slows it
down and creates a pretty setting with a duo of picked guitars, going for
understatement and self-deprecation. The combination makes you want to stay
tuned for further developments.

 

Standout Tracks: “Eye
Music,” “Fun.” MIKE SHANLEY

 

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