Birthday Club Returns Recharged with Debut LP ‘Obscure Emotion’

Josh Cobb

The mind of an artist, and the creation of a work of art, is never uniform or easily understood, even by the artist themselves. The idea that art can become lost in a sea of sensation and circumstance lends itself to the creation of Houston-based Birthday Club’s new album, Obscure Emotion, the band’s debut LP that embraces an array of complex themes, both old and new, digging for unknown reason in a vat of chaos, the proverbial needle in a demonic haystack. 

The creative-child of Stephen Wells, Birthday Club pioneered a unique and infectious form of indie rock on their EP Lighten Up, and after years hard at work in his personal studio, has re-emerged with an album that embodies a chic bedroom-style production and aesthetic that breathes new life into the project. There is a distinct verge into dreamier landscapes that contrast with the clearer and more pop-centric elements of the band’s earlier works, lending to a more ethereal and introspective atmosphere, but with tracks that are just as anthemic. 

The album’s first single “It’s Not Enough” ushered in this new chapter, complete with a music video following frontman and songwriter Stephen throughout a cerebral trip through the outskirts of the West Texas desert. Seemingly shot on some kind of 8-millimeter film, the band is embracing a more throwback and lysergic feel with the new record that pairs nicely with the deep grooves present on the new record. 

I met with Stephen at the Birthday Club album release at Wonky Power, accompanied by local Houston heavy-hitters Vodi and Marley Moon, to dig a bit more in-depth on the makings of the new record, which began more like a spiritual journey toward emotional understanding than simply creating a set of songs. 

“I was commissioned by NPR out in Arkansas to produce two episodes for them, and I had a bunch of extra material from that and those songs turned into an album basically. So, I had already been producing all this stuff, and I kind of realized that I had an album in the works.”

A sense of things coming together by fate lays the foundation for the record. While at Marfa’s Myths in scenic Marfa, Texas, Stephen happened to have a chance meeting with the creator of the album’s artwork, Sacha Carlos-Raps, a stained glassmaker based out of New York. They were watching a set from the bass player Dungen at El Cosmico, and the two hit it off effortlessly, creating a visual concept around the album’s songs through linocuts. 

It seems that introspection and seclusion played big roles in the creation of the album, as Stephen ventured out onto the family lakehouse to track for drums and other instruments. What would become Obscure Emotion was a gradual process of maturation regarding his songwriting process. 

“It’s very much a different process than I used on my last release where I went to a studio, tracked live, and produced with someone. This is the first time recording and producing by myself completely… I think getting a little older has a lot to do with it, too, because the earlier music I made was more high-energy like it had something to prove to itself. Finally easing into sounds, moods, feelings and a manic activity kind of feeling.”  
Listen to Obscure Emotion today and get your own copy of the stunning vinyl. It seems like this is just one of many records coming from Birthday Club in the near future, so we can just wait and see what else is to come this year.

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