The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Birthday Ass
Head of the Household Zara Hedderman , June 29th, 2021 09:03

Brooklyn's Birthday Ass are as free-spirited and rambunctious as their name suggests, finds Zara Hedderman

Close your eyes and return to the most chaotic moment in your life. Recall the feeling of being so out of control that your surroundings blur away, leaving you with nothing to hold onto for support or stability. Now, multiply that feeling by ten and you have the perfect insight into Head of the Household, the pleasingly chaotic second record from free-spirited Brooklyn sextet, Birthday Ass.

When I sat down to listen to these nine explosive tracks for the first time I was in the throes of a particularly debilitating fatigue-induced headache. Immersing yourself in one of the busiest sounding albums released so far this year could be regarded as a fool’s errand under such conditions. Bizarrely, its inherently unrelenting and multifaceted frenzy proved to be an effective distraction from the dull pain. Musically, it’s a cacophony of thundering cymbals, spunky sax and trumpet melodies, hyper-paced bass riffs, and vocals delivered as though speaking in tongues. The combined effect leaves room for little else, forcing the listener to become completely ensnared in its wildness.

Drawing from their time at the New England Conservatory, Birthday Ass, led by vocalist and composer Priya Carlberg, take an extra step within their free-form experimental jazz-rock compositions, venturing into a near impenetrable strand of the sub-genre. But they somehow manage to strike the balance between abrasive and accessible with their propulsive arrangements and eerie takes on familiar nursery rhymes (‘Buckle My Shoe’) or amusingly exaggerated drum solos that can’t help but mock arena-centred rock bands (‘Plubbage Blubbage’).

Once you settle into Head of the Household’s frantic energy, there are plenty of accessible grooves to enjoy. Take the underlying woozy guitar tones on the aforementioned ‘Sunlit Toes’ and ‘Spiced Twice’, its dreamlike ripples forging a false sense of calm only to be usurped by an assault of saxophone and trumpet countermelodies. ‘Spiced Twice’, in particular, stands out as an irresistible highlight for its ability to seamlessly meld together the group’s diverse roguish sensibilities scattered throughout the record into one bustling track. Leading with heavy grunge-like bass and guitar interplay before taking a fleeting detour with a romantically-inclined and even Tropicália-tinged bridge, the arrangement is so generous with all it provides in under four minutes.

A completely unsuppressed and unrelenting body of work, Birthday Ass live up to their name: attention grabbing, a little impertinent, but always good spirited. Head of the Household is a bracing and invigorating body of work.