Pom Poko – ‘Birthday’ review

There's just so much fun to be had with the Norwegian art-rock band's gloriously unhinged debut, an eccentric work that's no slave to algorithm

No one understands; they say it’s freaky, suggestive,” croons Pom Poko singer Ragnhild Jamtveit on the half-knowing and half-ironic ‘My Work Is Full Of Art’, one of this album’s most accessible moments. It’s anything but the norm. But don’t let the fact that this Norwegian quartet are conservatoire-educated in the world of jazz put you off. They’re far too set on having a good time.

The tone is set by ‘Theme #1’s opening mantra of “sublime, sufficient”, which starts off with a throbbing, motorik beat it collapses into a math-rock wig-out that sounds like Battles falling down a flight of stairs. ‘My Blood’ then proves their chops for playful pop, while ‘Follow The Lights’ jerks from speed to speed like a shuddering rollercoaster, always threatening to go off the rails but ultimately stabilising with a devious chorus.

Respite comes with the sweet and almost subtle dream-pop of ‘Blue’ and the romantic lullaby of ‘Honey’, before the cowbell-driven noise assault of the apty-titled ‘Crazy Energy Night’ captures Pom Poko at their best: unhinged but too tightly knit to disintegrate into jazz wankiness. There’s just so much fun to be had. ‘Day Tripper’ turns a wild freeform jam on a Beatles riff into something entirely their own, and album highlight ‘If U Want Me 2 Stay’ can barely contain its own delirious bounce. It’s pop, but not as you know it.

READ MORE: Welcome to the colourful, Beatles-warping world of Pom Poko: ‘We can do whatever we want – sometimes it disgusts us’

For a modern debut to not pander to any trend – or to be a slave to the algorithm in– is a joy in itself, but the fact that ‘Birthday’ has so many ‘WTF’ moments of satisfaction makes the risk all the more worthwhile. It’s a triumph of joy and instinct over good taste and common sense. You’ll love it, or you’ll hate it, you’ll have no idea what’s going on, but revel in the fact that a debut like this is allowed to exist.