Weird Little Birthday, the debut album from London’s Happyness, is, well, weird. Straight from the first track, when Benji Compston sings, “I’m the motherfucking birthday boy. / Don’t steal my thunder, baby Jesus,” in a hushed, whispered tone, over a floating bed of reverb heavy, early Real Estate sounding guitars; this is something special.
This is an album that requires repeat listens. The first listen washes over, quiet and with surprising swiftness, given the album’s hour long run time. Upon the second and third listens one starts to catch the quirky hilarity of the lyrics and the smaller sonic touches, like the simple but perfect backing vocals on “Great Minds Think Alike, All Brains Taste The Same,” or the slightly distorted drums on “Orange Luz.” Upon the fifth listen the record finally synthesizes for an appreciation of the album as a whole, and it’s great – baby Jesus isn’t stealing anyone’s thunder here.
Each song is a gem, so instead of singling out individual tracks for their excellency, let’s examine a striking trend that runs throughout much of the music on Weird Little Birthday. No album, to date, sounds more like Wilco from the Summerteeth –Yankee Hotel Foxtrot — A Ghost Is Born era. “Naked Patients” sounds just like “Kamera”, with its acoustic guitars under the muted synths. “Weird Little Birthday Girl” plays straight out of A Ghost Is Born’s playbook with the soft repeated guitar line broken up by sparse, melancholy vocal sections.
Despite the pervasiveness of Wilco’s influence, and there are few bands who could do justice to such an illustrious influence, thankfully Happyness is one of them, the similarities break down when it comes to the lyrics. Whereas Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy is usually cryptic – writing songs that sound lofty and poetic or, if not, at least as if they’re written in code. (“I am an American aquarium drinker. / I assassin down the avenue,” anyone?) Happyness is witty and direct.
On the beautifully scathing “Stop Whaling,” after dreaming of the addressee as a whale, Compston sings, “You are so ugly when you smile.” As the song completes its crescendo, almost imperceptible until the end, he finally cracks that hushed voice into a quietly frenzied cry: “The war clubs coming down,” the steady guitars punctuating every word with even more bite. On “Montreal Rock Band Somewhere,” Compston sings what is likely the line of the album — “I’m wearing Win Butler’s hair, / there’s a scalpless singer of a Montreal rock band somewhere.”
Happyness are funny, but they aren’t afraid of situating themselves in a definitive moment in time (bands with an eye towards posterity rarely get there) and they aren’t afraid to be honest. This is an incredibly strong debut. Refreshingly light hearted without being cheesy, melancholy without being a downer, witty without being arrogant. This record is a keeper.