Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Matt Oliver, Mastering by Sam Patlove
The words of Stephen Malkmus come to mind as we start this essay about Vermont band, Happy Birthday. For instance, specifically when Pavement's lead singer and songwriter sings, "What about the voice of Geddy Lee? How did it get so high? I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy. (I know him and he does.) Then you're my fact-checkin' cuz," on the 1997 song "Stereo," from "Brighten The Corners." Kyle Thomas doesn't exactly have the freak of nature/Lee thing going on with his voice, but the Happy Birthday front man probably doesn't speak like an ordinary guy and our hunch is that if he were to attempt to buy alcoholic beverages from a blind convenience store clerk, he would be denied the sauce every time. He affects a soft, breathy and childlike vocal to his words and it gives one of the newer Sub Pop Records signees a sound that rings of a skinned knee day, young feelings and the odd plausibility of something goofy involving cartoons, or pot breaking out where such a thing has never broken out before. It seems like it would be reminiscent of that video footage of that tubby baby chain-smoking a cigarette, only we're hearing Thomas sing about light-hearted beefs, annoyances and pet peeves held regarding the ladies in a pure pop way, but one that contains more than just a subtle amount of stoned accordance to the luscious world of psychedelic brushstrokes. Happy Birthday songs tend to treat females and those with some fame or pseudo fam under their belts as the lunatics they are - out of their minds a healthy amount of the time, unable to be counted on or predictable. Some of the songs on the band's self-titled, full-length album sound as if they could be from the sessions that Courtney Love and Co. laid down during the making of "Celebrity Skin," had Hole substituted ungodly amounts of Laffy Taffy for all of the hard substances that they were punishing themselves with. There are takes on women and superstars that offer a distant take on the Malibu fakes and the business as usual of those pretty faces of the Hollywood hills. There's a wonderfully analytic strike at those who believe in the luster of midday and midnight, and that they have an obligation to take their egos for walks a couple of times every day. It's a hodge-podge of finding these people (of entitlement, or of unfathomable luck and manipulation) laughable and fascinating, getting caught up in a little world that exists in only one dimension, in the backyard of their minds. It's a playful romp on "Perverted Girl," and they kick up a sound that sounds half-Free Energy and half-Deer Tick. It's barroom-sounding and yet it's partly the music that's "drowning in teenage tears," a phrase they use in "Stupid Superstar." We think we hear them singing that the foolish only answer to the beautiful and there's a condemnation of easy commercialization misappropriating art when Thomas sings, "The stupid superstars are here/Hypnotizing everyone's ears." We're with them in their grievances.
Happy Birthday Official Site
Sub Pop Records