Happy Birthday may be bedroom lo-fi from the fuzzy sound to the scribbled cartoon cover art, the buzzing guitars to the off-kilter subject matter of the songs, but they transcend any limitations of the style (real or imagined) by writing songs that would be great no matter how they were recorded. Their self-titled album is full of alternative universe radio hits from start to finish, "Girls FM" being the standout but only by a nose. Unlike many bands who have used the lo-fi excuse to record half-finished ideas and pass them off as songs, Kyle Thomas writes tightly structured tunes with hooks and dynamics that borrow from sources like the mid-'60s British Invasion, early-'90s American indie rock, and radio hits from the '50s onward but end up sounding pretty unique.
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.
Happy Birthday's Kyle Thomas just wanted some company. In late 2008, the Vermont native, who also writes and records on his own as King Tuff, had some new songs to share. He was too scared to play them out alone, so for one show he threw together a band with Chris Weisman on bass and Ruth Garbus (sister of tUnE-yArDs' Merrill Garbus) on drums. It went over pretty well.
Trends come and go in music all the time: 80's synth revival, shoegaze, post-punk, post-punk lite. We see them rise up with a glut of support behind them, peak with that support spoiling into acrimony, and then one day they're gone. When they get close to critical mass, it's pretty easy to just lump all the like-minded music together and dismiss it.
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.
Their story is sweet and has been detailed quite a bit before but another re-telling surely wont hurt will it? Kyle Thomas, who also goes by King Tuff, has closets full of simple pop gems that stand out with crisp hooks and sugary melodies but when it came down to performing them, he felt he would benefit from a backing band to support him. So he called in Chris Weisman and Ruth Garbus to play “inverted-tuning” guitar and drums, respectively. After a handful of shows, the band not only felt a strong connection to continue making music together, but the label heads at Sub Pop also felt compelled enough to sign them with a record deal.