Everybody’s going power pop! Across all genres of pop music, there seems to be a reinvigorated concern for infectious melodies and hooks—as was noted with surprise and pleasure at the release of Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. But Happy Birthday does power pop with guitars, not digital programming. Though the songs are actually tightly woven and structured, there’s a trashy element and sloppy feel to the sugary melodies they deliver on their self-titled debut. The vocals are always counterpointed by lead guitar, harkening back to the power pop that came after punk—sweet but also loud.
It’s great to see that Kyle Thomas is finally getting his due. After toiling away, practically unnoticed across a an impressive array of genres: first psych-folk’s Feathers, then in stoner-metal outfit Witch, and finally with the late great King Tuff. King Tuff was Thomas’ bedroom glam-garage hybrid that birthed the stunning 2008 album Was Dead and directly preceded his work with Happy Birthday. The story that goes around is that Thomas wrote some new tracks and was too nervous to perform them alone so he enlisted Ruth Garbus (sister to the incredible tUnE-yArDs) and Chris Weisman. Sub Pop picked up the trio within four performances and that’s where we get their self-titled debut album.