Ruban and Kody Nielson – together, or alone – the work is always interesting, always worth hearing. I’ve loved all of the Unknown Mortal Orchestra material and the thought of them reunited to perform live is terrific of course. The other great thing is that the work is all standalone, there’s no need to compare Opossom with UMO, to ponder whether Silicon links back to Mint Chicks in any real way – I mean it links back in the realest way possible: a musician releasing music as part of both projects made it.
All of that said, Kody Nielson’s brand new album, Birthday Suite is his masterpiece; it’s the music of his lifetime. The advance-PR made it almost sound like a gimmick, a novelty, little sideline thing – releasing instrumental tracks named for family and friends, people in his life; the first singles released on the corresponding birthdays, the album in full was dropped, mid-week rather than on a traditional release day, because it was released on Kody’s birthday.
This is no mere folly.
This is the music of infatuation. Several in fact. Most overtly it’s the classical works interpreted on synthesisers that genius-composer Wendy Carlos filled the world with in the early 1970s. Beyond that you can hear many other things – often I’m sure I’m listening to the early work of Mike Oldfield, updated to include the ingredient he could never muster, let alone master: funk. Check out James’s Birthday, or Darien’s Birthday for instant proof.
But before either of those tracks can make their impressions, the record kicks off with Bic’s Birthday, a joyous little bubble of spacey power-pop muzak that feels like it could have had Bic Runga’s vocals atop it, in another world, another life. Instead it’s a dream-world meeting of Carlos and Peter Frampton, dribbly little synth lines feeling like silly talkbox nonsense. Gorgeous, silly talkbox nonsense that is.
I’m reminded, most often of Sebastien Tellier’s Confection, one of my favourite albums of the last decade. Very close to one of my most played albums of all time. Specifically I’m thinking of my connection to that record. There are some nice contrasts and comparisons. Like Confection, Birthday Suite feels like an imaginary soundtrack – score for a TV show or film, or set of short films, that will only ever exist in the mind of the composer. But where Tellier’s finest work was buoyed by the rubbery percussion of master drummer Tony Allen, Kody’s Birthday Suite works because of his brittle back-beat approach to funk playing (Ruban’s Birthday, Darien’s Birthday).
The joy of repeat-playing this album is, for me, on a par with Tellier’s Confection – a magical little musical getaway, an escape-route, we tunnel away as naïve melodies, gorgeous little wafts of music and hypnotic rhythms gather us under their wing, guiding us.
Frida’s Birthday feels like flight has been given to one of John Carpenter’s soundtrack pieces, Po Po’s Birthday feels like the best of Frank Zappa’s synclavier work (Jazz From Hell, Francesco Zappa) if produced by David Axelrod.
Speaking of Axelrod, he’s another music mind that I think of a lot while listening to this. If his fingerprints aren’t all over it then the way his music has influenced my appreciation of instrumental music still makes him feel like the correct conduit here, a philosophical and spiritual touchstone (Bubba’s Birthday).
There are tracks of hip-hop grooves and dizzied freakout-funk (Azure’s Birthday), splashes of sparkling, squelching soul-jazz for the wee smalls (Christopher’s Birthday), utter whimsy shone to sparkle (Cherhys’s Birthday) and cinematic orchestrations that make jazz and classical mingle with fun(k) drum workouts (the closer, Dee Dee’s Birthday). So, somehow, it’s all at once one giant composition with shadings in place of actual line-breaks for separate movements – and it’s a diverse set of trippy, playful, unique instrumentals.
It’s joyous, with little winks towards a type of time-travelling musical sorcery – for this is the updated sound of already-dated musical textures, this is mind-music for the heart and feet, this is a little world to disappear into.
This is a mini masterpiece; bottled lightning, magic captured.
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