Birthday Suite is a typically bizarro move from the sonically restless Kody Nielson. First gaining notoriety as the Mint Chicks untamed frontman he's shied away from vocals ever since, hiding his voice behind vocoders or layers of studio effects.
Here, on the first album he's put out under his actual name rather than that of a band (Opossum) or project (Silicon) he's removed his voice altogether.
The obvious inspiration in sonics and presentation is Wendy Carlos' hugely influential, synthesiser-driven Switched on Bach album, which came out in the tail-end of the sixties. This record reimagined the work of the classical composer and reinterpreted his classical hits on the futuristic Moog synthesiser. Radical and mind-expanding at the time, but fairly dated now.
While that influence looms, Nielson isn't beholden to it. His idiosyncratic and funky drumming gives the album its good groove, clattering and rolling away underneath all the arpeggiating vintage synths and melodic whimsy.
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Clearly a hugely personal album, each song is dedicated to someone in his life. It makes interpreting and decoding the instrumentals a fun game. Opener Bic's Birthday is driving and full of classical flourish while the motifs on Ruban's Birthday fidget and change course abruptly, never settling in one style for too long.
I don't know who Christopher is, but judging by the track Christopher's Birthday he's one funky cat while Azure's Birthday suggests someone who jives with 70s street smarts and who you probably don't want to loan money to...
There's a lot to unwrap over the course of these 12 instrumentals, as details gradually reveal themselves over repeated spins. While his drumming is rightly celebrated, Neilson's synth work here is nothing short of brilliant. The melodies either funked out or filled with ornate classical embellishment.
Depending on your ears, Birthday Suite will either be an endlessly inventive journey though op-shop synth and dusty jazz funk or a painfully long elevator ride through dated muzak.
Artist: Kody Nielson
Album: Birthday Suite
Label: Flying Nun
Verdict: Switched on Nielson