During ‘Sanity’, one of Happy Birthday’s highlights, Sneaks proclaims: “I need some time for my vanity”.
Time’s something that Sneaks never needed much of before. The Washington D.C. post-punk and spoken word artist’s first two albums, 2016’s Gymnastics and 2017’s It’s a Myth, were built on bursts of bass and her refreshingly direct lyrics that registered roughly a minute a track. 2019’s Highway Hypnosis traded the post-punk minimalism for meditative electronic sounds, yet songs still hovered around the two-minute mark.
However, Happy Birthday smashes the timer altogether – with liberating results. The aforementioned ‘Sanity’, the longest track at six minutes, is an entrancing slow burn with a dense dreamy soundscape that’s ridden like a wave by the versatile shake-up of rapping, singing and spoken word which opens up new sonic possibilities for Sneaks.
Length isn’t the only barometer of progress here; Sneaks also demonstrates a growing experimental majesty over her briefer cuts, infusing ‘Faith’ with a contagious LCD Soundsystem-like groove and circumnavigating ‘Mars in Virgo’ through a zodiac of soaring synths.
But it’s the caustic ‘This World’ and earnest album closer ‘You’ve Got A Lot Of Issues’ that stand out, with Sneaks utilising the larger canvas to articulate her indignation at society, with cutting lyrics that supplicate for “A better humanity for you and you and you / For all the black people / A better humanity”.
Not everything here is flawless (‘Slightly Sophisticated’ should have been a sub-two-minute banger, not a three-minute slog) but overall this is a daring and rewarding record. Time well spent.
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