Monday, 18 October 2010

Happy Birthday - Happy Birthday (Sub Pop)

Upon the first listen of Happy Birthday's self titled début album, my thoughts were whether or not, in some surreal alternative universe, the Royal Trux had recorded a bunch of songs for Top of the Pops one hot summer. This is by no means a criticism, the combination of the trio’s jangly, lo-fi, hook driven guitar riffs infused with the distinctively dreamy, unrefined nasal vocals of Kyle Thomas make for a perfectly balanced listen.

The record’s chaotic opening anthem, filled with uncontrollable thoughts towards the opposite sex, ‘Girls FM’, is a perfect pop song; relentlessly upbeat, infectiously catchy, topped off with a repetitively fun chorus (“Everybody’s looking like a girl to me / Girls FM, Girls FM”). Two minutes in and we encounter Thomas’ coarse screaming of the track’s title whilst schizophrenically accompanied by Ruth Garbus' tender backing vocals.

The pace shifts dramatically with '2 Shy', slowing down to offer us a softer, hazy reflection on self loathing. The constant change of tone that appears throughout the record mirrors the bands raw, unpolished and occasionally grating take on introspective, twee-soaked pop songs.

'Maxine The Teenage Eskimo's dark narrative focuses on Thomas’ doomed affections for the unobtainable girl; sugar coated in lush backing vocals and masked by unthreatening strumming of the guitar. A less subtle approach is taken on 'Cracked' with its messy intro of pounding drums leading us into a tale of one girl's mental lament - "She's got an ice cold face / Machine gun music on her headphones / Her brain is damaged". In the same vein, ‘Zit’s repetitive, screeching ode to teenage angst and destruction flows like the polar opposite to the album’s closing track, ‘Fun’.

In true pop fashion, there are dark undertones brimming to the surface; unrequited love, social isolation and dreams of a better tomorrow. However, with such honest and direct delivery, it's easy to overlook the more sinister aspects of the songwriting. Chances are you’ll catch yourself harmonising to the naive sensibilities of tracks like 'Subliminal Message' ("I'm sending you a subliminal message / To your heart"), or obliviously tapping your foot along to the laid back yet menacing ‘Perverted Girl’.

With such a strong début, let’s hope Happy Birthday have many anniversaries to follow up with.

Words : Neil Phillips

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