In spite of its unfortunate name, Happy Birthday are indeed one of the most talented and overlooked acts on the Sub Pop roster. If you haven’t checked out their excellent dB’s-gone-DIY self-titled debut from 2010, especially if you are a lover of scrappy power pop, you should straightaway. Used copies are going for something like 16 cents on Amazon, so jump on that shit with the quickness while those prices last. And if you find yourself loving the melodies from these Birthday boys from Brattleboro, Vermont, there are two solo project spinoffs of the band well worth checking out. King Tuff is the nom-de-plume of one Kyle Thomas,
Happy Birthday's erstwhile guitar slinging frontman. This eponymous titled LP for Sub Pop is the second album utilizing this cheeky moniker, further enhanced by a killer new logo that looks like it was nicked from some obscure Upstate, NY thrash band from the mid-80s. However, the music here is more about head bopping than head banging, as Thomas cops a glam rock pose on a shitgaze budget, like Tanx
by T. Rex reformatted for Slitbreeze, evident on such standout cuts as "Alone and Stoned" and "Anthem". If King Tuff
proves anything, its that Kyle Thomas is indeed the bad boy of the Birthday camp.
Meanwhile, bassist Chris Weisman is Thomas's more pop-oriented melodic foil, presumably the reason why his chums hail him as "the Brian Wilson of Brattleboro". And you will certainly understand why his rep as the harmonic silver lining of the Happy Birthday triad is well-deserved after discovering his excellent solo opus Fresh Sip
. It was originally put out in 2010 as a cassette-only release for Autumn Records and hailed that year as one of the top ten titles to emerge in that increasingly renewed format by NPR. But as cool as it may have been to drop in that fashion, hearing it on tape did not do this hour-long 19 track song cycle, caked with the residue of many hours with Todd Rundgren's Runt
, Big Star's Third
and Ron Nagle's Bad Rice
rotated on the hi-fi. Sip's debut on vinyl from Feeding Tube Records, however, changes all that, as the fidelity finally matches up to its herald as one of the great basement pop masterpieces of the Obama era.
Kyle Thomas and Chris Weisman might be part of a group with one of the stupidest names on the CMJ charts (arguably speaking, of course, though Gauntlet Hair might have them beat). But that shouldn't deter you from experiencing the immense talent of these two promising young lions of modern rock as they carve out their own niches in the music underground.