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Happy Birthday - Happy Birthday

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Artist: Happy Birthday

Album: Happy Birthday

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Mar. 15, 2010


Happy Birthday - "Girls FM" (Happy Birthday)


Kyle Thomas sings in a great, distinctive voice. It’s weird and nasal, but still kind of tough; to try and approximate it, one would be advised to imitate, simultaneously, Milo Aukerman and Marc Bolan. Thomas has applied his singular voice to an impressive array of genres: psych-folk in Feathers, stoner rock in Witch, bedroom glam-rock as King Tuff. On Happy Birthday’s debut LP, this voice meets perhaps its ideal application: simulated adolescence.

Take the album’s first song, its undeniably catchy single “Girls FM,” which sounds like it was engineered by and for some really adept teenagers. Its verses have a brilliant stop-start tempo, and a perfect power-pop synth floats over the chorus; then the song’s interrupted by a totally stupid slow-down break with everyone in the band saying “Girls. Girls. Girl FFFFMMMM. GGGGirls,” exactly the way a too-smart kid would try to make a straightforward song quirky. And the song’s subject? Duh, it’s Thomas singing about how everyone’s looking like a girl to me, almost a parody of teenage-hood.

The theme pervades the album. “Too Shy” describes walking home, alone, wishing he were someone else, all to a Pavement-psych guitar sound. On the lovely “Subliminal Message,” Thomas and drummer-vocalist Ruth Garbus sing, call and response-style, the dopey lyrics “I’m sending you a subliminal message / To your heart,” and one can almost see an ask-her-to-dance teen movie scene playing out before your eyes. For pity’s sake, the album’s stomping yowler is called “Zit.”

Sonically, we’ve got a pastiche of historically catchy musical styles, with a Lou Reed touch here, a Superchunk riff there, a 10cc harmony under it all. A lot of the songs have an extraneous part — a solo or instrument or second bridge. Though “Girls FM” will probably get picked up by the internet, the album works as an entity. It functions like a real rock album from the days when people listened to such things, with all their imperfections: there’s the rager, the slow-jam, the throwaway goofy track with Beach Boys harmony vox.

Happy Birthday got their Sub Pop record deal after playing about three shows. They sound sufficiently similar to the wildly successful Girls to ponder this pouncing with some cynicism. But then, each individual member has a moderately successful career: Ruth Garbus is a member of Feathers and released an excellent solo LP, Rendezvous With Rama earlier this year, and guitarist/bassist Chris Weisman collaborates with Greg Davis. The songs played here seem to emerge by and large from the same brain that produced King Tuff, and one wonders if the band would seem a little less derivative if Garbus and Weinberger contributed more actively to the songwriting.

That said, the album’s timed well for the onset of warm weather; there are few things more teenage than blasting a pop record in the park.

By Talya Cooper

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