Vinyl Vlog 496

Vinyl Vlog 496

Tuesday, 13 April 2021
”Blah” from the Head of the Household LP by Birthday Ass.

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into the Head of the Household LP by Birthday Ass. I remember when I first started listening to indie rock, underground rock and other sorts of music which were a little left-of-center in nature, and it wasn’t always easy. In fact, it was often sort of a gamble; in the days before the internet, there were occasions when you didn’t know exactly what you were going to get, and you just sort of had to trust what you had read in a magazine or heard from a record store clerk. When it worked out and you found something you liked, it felt like you had won the lottery; what you had found was weird, but it was the kind of weird that you could appreciate and love just that much more because you have found it. In my own case, that’s how it felt when I took a chance and won on albums by X-Ray Spex, The Bags, Captain Beefheart (which was a little easier, because lots of record store clerks were well-versed in his music), Boss Hog, Heavens To Betsy and Longstocking. Granted, the process was far from flawless (for as many bands that I found which I loved, I found plenty that I did not) – but the hunt and sense of discovery which came with it was spectacular. These days, that sensation is far more rare (the internet’s greatest gift to musical interest is its ability to demystify), but I sure found it when I was nudged in the direction of, and then discovered, Birthday Ass and their debut album, Head of the Household.

As stylus sinks in and the A-side begins to play, listeners won’t be able to stifle a dubious smile as “Blah” sets the first impression for Head of the Household. There, Birthday Ass singlehandedly turns the idea that a songs lyrics bear the most important message on its head by simply slobbering out the human race’s single most regularly utilized nonsense syllable over a gloriously angular rhythm, garnished by a garish horn section. It sounds grotesque in print – like an intrusive, day-glo paint splash laid on top of something which was already frivolous – and there is some undeniable truth in that, but also some infectious excitement as well.

To be fair, the song isn’t one hundred percent gibberish. After the “blah blah blah”s which are the centrepiece of the verses, the choruses begin with a hard atop before launching into a perfect enactment of singer Priya Carlberg’s sense of confusion with the words “What do I do” and then concluding with, “Sky is so bright, I don’t know where I am” before launching back through the fantastic cacophony again. On the wrong day, a listener might be perfectly turned off by how the band introduces itself here but, on the right one, open minded listeners will be able to note the obvious nods to Zappa and Beefheart as well as the salad days of punk (the days when bands were still writing the book by which bands now take over the world) and be left primed and ready to be swept away by Birthday Ass and the potential experiences that Head of the Household might offer.

…And, while the lyric sheets make greater use of language, form and discipline after “Blah,” the structures of the songs and fine tune precedents expressed by the opening cut, as the A-side of Head of the Household progresses. That process begins as soon as “Sunlit Toes” begins after “Blah,” and the difference is immediately apparent; the song features a similar assembly in its composition (similar horns, bass and drums), but a smoother delivery which makes the song feel more urbane and tempered. In that way, the bass figure comes through more smoothly and feels less clipped and, while while the vocal part is a little more atonal, lyrics like “I don’t care, summer’s here” play as more savory than sweet or sour. That difference is contrasted pretty well when Carlberg sings her praises of the world’s favorite gelatin dessert, stacked against the first genuinely melodic song in this album’s runtime. In fact because it is the first genuinely melodic song on Head of the Household, “Jell-o” actually plays like a breath of fresh air – and feels like the beginning of the build which grows exponentially into the big and worrisome “Spiced Twice” (which also happens to be the longest song on the side) before the darkness somehow gets even more worrisome when “Buckle My Shoe” plays through with many of the rhymes listeners expect to close the side.

Listening to “Buckle My Shoe” and the hopscotch monotone that Carlberg installs as support for the song’s lyric sheet, it’s hard not to enjoy the playful vibes in the song and listeners may discover that they’re sorry to hear the song begin to taper off to the sound of bottle caps, power tools and weird, indefinable electronic sounds. It’s more than a little hypnotic, and listeners will find they need to blink surprisingly hard when the cut ends and the needle lifts.

As relaxing and hypnotic as the end of the A-side proved to be, listeners will still be compelled to flip the record over quickly – and will be shocked out of their stupor when hard horn blasts open “Blubbage Blubbage,” the first cut on the B-side. There, Birthday Ass follows a very similar pattern to the one sketched out through the A-side as torrential waves of panicked horns assault the eardrums of those listening and Carlberg tries to soothe them at the same time with a sweet vocal melody which it is easily assumed reflects the singer’s disposition. True, there is an ominous sense that there is something dark looming in the background on this cut as the bass strikes unmelodic notes and the horns occasionally screech, unexpectedly. The direction in which each bandmember is going is unclear throughout the song and, toward the end sort of gives the impression that the cut isn’t supposed to be a song at all – it is simply intended to be an exercise in marginally organized sound – but the smooth, chorus-saturated guitars and the epic drums which strike toward song’s end leave an operatic aftertaste which is as exciting as it is confusing.

Because it gets as bizarre as it does, it would be easy enough to assume that, as was the case on the A-side, the B-side of Head of the Household is likely to collapse in on itself before the side ends and just leave a mess for listeners to clean up – but that concern is rectified when “Malai My Guy” opens and spontaneously restores some order to the running of the already fraught Head of the Household LP. There, just as was the case before, Andes Abenante’s chorus-effected guitar washes against listeners just the right way, but it’s made even better when bassist Dan Raney spontaneously falls into a very Richard Hell-informed, sinewy bass tone which really contains the song in addition to pushing it along. That bass is the standout on “Malai My Guy,” and really turns up the positive emotional vibes in the late-playing of Head of the Household, before “Broccoli Face” mimics the sound and spirit of “Salt Peanuts” by Dizzy Gillespie in a manner which is very unexpected, and then the band spontaneously echoes Carlberg’s vocal melody and so leaves a very playful spirit in the end, as “K Helap” closes the album. As the needle lifts from the B-side, those who have run front-to-back with Head of the Household won’t be quite sure how they got to the place that Birthday Ass has left them, and some may be put off by it – but those with the right kind of curious spirit may feel compelled to run the distance with the album again because, while they might not be sure WHY it felt good, they’ll know that the experience of did Head of the Household did feel good indeed. In this critic’s case, Head of the Household left me feeling just exactly like those records I didn’t exactly understand, years ago. Head of the Household isn’t easy, but it sure is fun! [Bill Adams]


Birthday Ass – “Blah” – [Video]

Head of the Household will be released on April 23, 2021. Pre-order it here.

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