Happy Birthday are the kind of intentional lo-fi band that remind you “Holy shit, there’s a lot of lo-fit bands!” Then you think, “There’s really no need for all of these lo-fi bands!” and you immediately put Happy Birthday on the long list of “Lo-Fi bands that don’t need to be around any more.”
Hailing from Vermont, this trio features some interesting lineage-not the kind that make you think “Sup Pop’s newest hitmakers!” but intriguing nonetheless.
With guitarist Kyle Thomas taking a break from his work with J. Mascis in the stoner-metal band Witch and his own folk musings on Feathers , he joins up with Merrill Garbus’ (Tune Yards) sister, Ruth, and bassist Chris Weisman for a project that sounds great on paper. On closer examination, they should have saved the notepad to write the answer to the question “What kind of band do we want to be?”
There’s conflicting directions on their debut-a few that are appealing, but most that are self-indulgent bullshit.
The good, like “Maxine Teenage Eskimo,” feature Thomas’ thin vocals complimented with nifty Beatlesque harmonies and chord progressions. At barely over two minutes, you’re drawn in and wanting more.
“Girls FM” is another slice of infectious twee-pop that, had they worked on that mission statement before hitting “record,” we could be looking at a nice collection of loserville anthems.
But Thomas isn’t a loser, he just likes playing the role for his advantage. Which means that Happy Birthday is filled with pointless side-steps where he tries his hand at Marc Bolan stomp (“Pink Strawberry Shake”), self-loathing (“Fun”) and temper tantrums (“Zit”).
Not once do you believe that Happy Birthday is nothing more than a sound-collage of the shit he finds amusing or intriguing, Since none of the songs could find a home in any of Thomas’ other projects, he built a name out of the outtakes, tapped a pair of locals to help flesh out the meanderings, and got signed to Sub Pop after less than a half-dozen shows.
I understand that all of this sounds like sour grapes, it isn’t. While it may be true that I like my “bands” to actually be bands and work a little bit more than five shows before they even record a fucking demo (which is what this is, mind you), Happy Birthday reek of amateurism that is intentionally manufactured and marketed as high art.
To explain: the debut from Tune Yards was indeed high art.
Happy Birthday’s debut is a sketchbook of Ligers.
And while ligers are in fact real, Kyle Thomas doesn’t appear to hold much truth in his newfound project. Happy Birthday, in fact, may be just another stopping point in his restless muse. In the irritating “Zit,” he may have let a bit of honesty slip out in the line “I was a twenty-something/Doing the folk thing/Now I don’t do anything” he screams.
Ain’t that the truth.
This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.
After the publication, one of the band members pointed out a misquote of the lyrics and general exception to the low score:
It's ok you hate Happy Birthday. But do you really think us picking a genre and having a "mission statement" would help us make music you would like better? And I know the meme that we didn't have to do much to get signed is irritating. But we are a community of musicians who have been making albums for years (I started in 91) and have no money. And don't overestimate being on a label: we still don't. I'm not bitter, I love my life in music, but the image of snatched-up amateurs is a total stretch (I'm a music teacher!). Ho hum. And it's "fuck thing" not "folk thing".
Which prompted another commenter to admit:
"Doing the fuck thing" is kinda weird and creepy. I'll give one more star for that alone."
Which prompted another commenter to note:
"I second the notion that it's weird and creepy."