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Birthday Ass – Head of the Household

By Steve B.

April 29, 2021

I am going to start this review of the new Birthday Ass album “Head of the Household” by discussing another album released decades ago, so please bear with me. When I was a teenager starting to get into the fringes of jazz, one of my favorite albums was Naked City “Radio.” The All Music review of Radio describes the album: “Several genres and bands are skillfully evoked…. Jazz, surf, R&B, death metal, funk, acid rock, and serialism are grafted together in this collection, often into the same song, and the band shifts genres, tempos, and arrangements on a dime. Supposedly, Radio was conceived as a set for a college radio program, making it a kind of ‘Young Person’s Guide to Naked City,’ beginning with accessible tunes, gradually building up listener tolerance to dissonance, and finally sandbagging the listener with evil blasts of dissonant metallic noise and convincing perpetrator-and-victim screaming.”

“Radio” and “Head of the Household” are by no means the same album, but the above description largely applies to both, and the overall aesthetic and philosophy of the albums are well aligned. Birthday Ass is a frenetic cacophony that is dizzying and disjointed, but also highly orchestrated. Songs jump between tempos and styles and expertly switch between chaos and order. Priya Carlberg’s vocals are delightfully lackadaisical, and her melodies and pitch are spot on. Alex Quinn’s trumpet and Raef Sengupta’s saxophone meld with Priya’s vocals, allowing the three to chase each other, evoking the feeling that they are whirling around a circle. At the center of that circle is the rhythm section: Andres Abenante on guitar, Dan Raney on bass, and Jonathan Starks on drums. Keeping track of the time signature of Birthday Ass songs can be a challenge, and yet these three are effortlessly aligned.

The highlights for me are “Malai, My Guy” and “Broccoli Face.” And the album ends with a bang with “K Helap,” which like Naked City’s “Radio” before it, “sandbag[s] the listener with evil blasts of dissonant metallic noise and … screaming.”

I am looking forward to a time, hopefully soon, when we can all see Birthday Ass again live in Boston. In anticipation of that day, I highly encourage everyone to check out “Head of the Household,” released April 23rd on Ramp Local records.


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