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. That being said, Thomas and his co-horts Ruth Garbus and Chris Weissman aren’t afraid to steal the occasional bit here and there along the way; the drum sound on "Subliminal Message" from Tom Petty’s "Don’t Come Around Here No More," the guitar riff on "Perverted Girl" from Weezer’s "Buddy Holly," the atmosphere on "I Want to Stay (I Run Away)" from every moody 80s song about escape, the wackiness of the Elephant 6 crew on the psych-y "Pink Strawberry Shake." These references are fun to pick out and catalog, but they provide only fleeting glimpses of the outside world. For most of the album, the trio exists in a hermetically sealed world (like a bedroom), where every move they make is the right one, every sound they layer into the songs is perfect, and every melody makes you glad they let you into their world. Once you’re in, songs about teenage Eskimo girls, bad skin, and milkshakes make total sense. Especially when they are sung in Thomas’ wonderfully snotty, pleasingly innocent voice and wrapped in vocal harmonies. If history runs its inevitable course, Happy Birthday's next album will find them moving out of the lo-fi realm and into the world of real studios and budgets that allow for more than the occasional Hot N Ready pizza. While this is usually the death of a lo-fi band, there’s a good chance Happy Birthday will survive if they write songs as good as those found here, and play them with the same passion and inventiveness. Even if they do fail, lovers of the weird and infectious will always be able to go back to Happy Birthday and relive its lo-fi charms.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra