Brooklyn-Based Birthday Girl’s *In This Unassuming Little House Only Good Things Can Happen*: An Alt-rock Funhouse Album Of Unusual Proportions

Words by Willa Rudolph / Photos by Luke Ivanovich

At the beginning of this month, Brooklyn-based rock band Birthday Girl put out a novella of an album entitled In This Unassuming Little House Only Good Things Can Happen. After attending the album release party, I was super inspired by the band’s holistic creation of a world, only their own. 

Birthday Girl played at the Triad Theatre on the Upper West Side, supported by Like A Doll and Le Bang. All three bands have a sort of costume element to their shticks, and the theater itself looks like a play set-up – velvet curtains, ornate stage framing, and a room full of seats and little tables with quaint lamps on top of them. The whole experience was very dream-like and surreal. It felt like a whimsical children’s show, but flipped on its head and laden with something a little psycho-sexual and sinister. Like an old-time-y puppet show that has something super unnerving about it. But the show was still so appealing and entertaining.

It reminded me of the vibes of that old TV show The Big Comfy Couch, but if you added punk rock and hot girls to it… Is that weird to say? lol.

The four-piece band defies genre, while having a toe in sounds from 90’s alt rock, riot grrrl, emo, shoegaze, and pop. At 9 tracks and 27 min & 29 sec, In This Unassuming Little House Only Good Things Can Happen is a venture through a little portal into a play pretend world where dreams intermingle with the reality of raw, human emotion. Birthday Girl is: Eva “Not The Birthday Girl” (vocals), May Bush (guitar), Akiva Henig (drums), Layla Passman (bassist), and they were joined on stage by Avi Henig (guitar & co-writer/producer of album), Shelby Kraut (Xylophone) and Alice Gerlach (cello).

The “intro” to the album, dreamy and ambient, is an orchestral lullaby, overwhich Eva croons a sweet little tune, equally eerie as it is heartwarming. Suddenly, you’re thrown into the fire with the second song, “Did you know I write you poems?” One of my favorites from the project, it’s a taunting magical incantation of a song, with doomy gloomy bass & lead guitar, with a sprinkling of little twinkly, whining guitar overdubs. Eva coyly addresses her subject, “I don’t think I wanna… / tell you stories … anymore. / I don’t wanna turn all my secrets into something that sounds more romantic… / You’re all perverted … / You know, I think you like when I’m in pain…” Her voice drifts in and out as the drum beat rumbles softly and persistently under her vocals, until the song explodes with the chorus. “YEAH YOU WANT BLOOD / Yeah, you like how it tastes…” Eva sneers. 

The following song, “Rupert!”, reminds me of an upbeat, thrashing, and contagious early 2000’s movie intro track – I could see it leading us into 10 Things I Hate About You in the place of Joan Jett & The Blackhearts’ “Bad Reputation.” The album slows you down a little with the beginning of  “Anymore,” before the song accelerates before telling us “I DON’T WANT YOU ANYMORE.” “Want a mommy and a whore… / I could be both of them, but / I don’t want you anymore…” This one is one of my faves on the album. It’s fun, it’s a mantra, and it’s healing if you’ve ever been sidelined or put in a box by a romantic partner, especially by someone who is using you. 

Upset” is more of a classic pop-rock track, but Birthday Girl can’t do anything basic. The tempo of the song changes between the chorus and the verse. They always include little breaks where your mind rests for a moment and catches up to itself, before the song continues. This one’s super catchy, though, and I could see it being a crowd pleaser, although “Rupert!” currently has the most streams. 

Close my eyes” is slow and meditative, but ascends and crashes into a noisy breakdown a few times throughout. It’s a bit of a resting point in the middle of the record. The band utilizes dissonance and unlikely arrangements to keep you intrigued, though, and they never go where you expect them to.

(Photo by Luke Ivanovich from Album Release at Triad Theater)

Next is “Insecure Dreams,” which I think might be my personal favorite. It reminds me of Peaches or Scissor Sisters. It’s dance-y, has a super funky bass-line, along with a rousing guitar riff, and Eva’s sing-song-y spoken word poetry gyrates atop the backing synths and electronic noises. This one makes me want to dance the most out of any other song on the album. “Honey Locust,” the penultimate track on the record, is a sweet spot to lay on the grass under a tree, watching the dappled light prance about. It’s more shoegaze-y, reminiscent of a little My Bloody Valentine, Lush, and Cocteau Twins.

Finally, last but not least, Birthday Girl finishes us off with “Desire,” many of the band members’ favorite song from the project. This one’s grungy, muy tasty, and electrifying. “Fuck me like I’m famous,” Eva whispers. With yet another unexpected turn, the song brings us into a closet of sound, claustrophobic rackety clattering pulses underneath the spoken vocal track, half-way through the song, before it changes direction into a heavy breakdown. “What if lightning strikes twice? / A God fearing person, I want it, I fear it / I want it, I fear it, I need it.” The end of the song, also the end of the entire journey of the album, returns us to where the song began–a daunting guitar riff and fierce drums, before we’re dropped off the edge of a cliff into a sparkly, twinkling abyss. 

See our interview with the band below!!

WR: What inspired the title of the album, In This Unassuming Little House Only Good Things Can Happen?

Eva: I went to college for a few years, and while I was there I would usually be doodling or writing all over my notebooks and worksheets. I would compulsively cover pages with phrases and lyrics. In This Unassuming Little House Only Good Things Can Happen was one of those. I would write it over and over for a few years. When I was working on my first album, I wanted to name something after it but it didn’t feel right. To me, it’s just a reminder that we’re safe and protected and everything is going to turn out okay. I think of it as a little Birthday Girl protection spell.

WR: How long have you guys been working on it?

Eva: I guess like two years or something. 

WR: What did you have in mind while ordering the songs for the album?

Eva: The order of the album is the same as the order of our live sets. So this somewhat came from trial and error. I think it’s like you said, our songs are soaring and meandering and that’s kind of what we want for our shows as well. When you zoom in and out, there’s that same feeling. I think for me at least, there’s a slight narrative or different themes beyond just the feeling of the songs themselves that progress alongside the tracks, but…  

WR: Can you describe the slight narrative you see progressing throughout the album?

Eva: That’s my little secret.

WR: What is your favorite song off the record and why?

Layla: I really like “Desire”, because I think it marks a turning point in our songwriting. We were able to start getting more experimental and thinking outside the box in that song, which I think has informed our songwriting going forward. 

May: “Insecure Dreams” because it understood the assignment. 

Akiva: Desire, because it tickles my ears in a psychedelic way while also being a catchy pop song.

Eva: “Desire,” formerly known as “Free Rat Jazz Cemetery.” Idk, I think part of it is because it’s the newest one. I love tracks that are episodic and dynamic. I love tracks that are cinematic. This one makes me feel like some succubus is leading me down a ceaseless hallway to hell and there’s this choir of demons that have me hypnotized and are luring me deeper and deeper into the pits. Then in the breakdown, it kinda feels like I’m starting to come to understand my fate and maybe also kinda starting to like it… 

WR: If you could only take 3 albums to a deserted island, what would they be?

Layla: Wow, this is tough!!! These are just the top 3 to come to mind but definitely have others. Hole: Live Through This, Nirvana: In Utero, Lana Del Rey: Norman Fucking Rockwell

May: 98.12.28 by Fishmans, Midtown 120 Blues by DJ Sprinkles, Bad Timing by Jim O’Rourke

Akiva: Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles, Congratulations by MGMT, Roman Candle by Elliott Smith

Eva: Blahhhhh I hate this question I need so many albums. Low Key: 1. Layla already said this but Norman Fucking Rockwell and Did You Know There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, and I’m not gonna choose between these two no—skip records! 2. 69 Love Songs – The Magnetic Fields 3. D**a E*****u by B***d N*w

WR: Why is NYC the best place to be a band right now? If you don’t think it is, where would that be?

Layla: The community here is what makes NYC such a great place to be a band. The amount of support from our peers, the willingness to step in and play for someone else’s band, the camaraderie at shows. All of it feels so special to be a part of. I’m sure other cities have this type of community too, but nothing beats New york.

May: NYC is home forever, but material conditions rule us all. Being a full time musician is not a viable economic strategy for most people who live in New York. There are many passionate artists around the country <3

Akiva: I don’t know if it’s the BEST place, but I do find it pretty inspiring to be surrounded by so many mega-talented artists doing all these crazy cool things. I also think living in a walkable city is very important to me for staying creative. I often find myself listening to demos on walks around Bushwick or on the subway while people-watching, and I think if I was driving all the time my mind would not be stimulated in the same way.

Eva: ‘Cause we’re all piled on top of each other in tiny little rooms that we can’t stand to be in, so we have nothing else to do other than smash and slam things that make sound ‘til it’s time to wake up again…and everyone in NYC is sexy and tired, and sexy bands are the best bands.

WR: What is your guys’ writing process like? Your songs are soaring and meandering and sometimes go in different directions throughout – how do you usually piece together a song?

Layla: Some of the songs on the album I started on guitar, but most are started with a bassline I write. Then, we’re jamming on it and trying out different parts. Usually May’s guitar comes after, and Akiva always whips something dope up on the drums. Eva then comes in with lyrics and melodies once we have a solid idea of what the song is going to look like. Since vocals are added last, we like to play a lot with structure, hence going in some unusual directions. 

May: Layla coerces a beautiful bass line out of the void of the universe through pure genius and intuition. I build upon these lines with the silly, mortal ideas of an amateur guitarist only for those ideas to be flipped completely on their head by Eva’s unworldly understanding of melody that truly makes no sense to me. 

Akiva: These days I feel like our songs usually start with a bass or guitar riff that the brilliant Layla or May bring in to practice, and then we jam on that for a long time until it starts sounding cool. Usually a form kind of takes shape through that process, trying out different sections and transitions to see what feels right. We record whatever we managed to get done at practice on voice memos and Eva will take that home and record vocals over it. She is so incredible at this and it is the most exciting part of the process to me when I hear the melody and lyrics she came up with; it always fits so perfectly and inspires us to keep refining the parts and arrangement.

Eva: Well, I feel like everyone kinda already answered this, but I do feel like its very collaborative from start to finish and everyone in the band has written on different instruments for songs.

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