Album Review: Vines – Birthday Party

[Self-released; 2023]

The title is a little misleading at first glance: Birthday Party isn’t a celebratory record of cheers and sugary cake. Instead the debut record from Cassie Wieland (aka Vines) is a collection of tracks that muses over the change that comes with each year and the melancholy of getting older. There are sparkles of joy in the slow-moving fuzzy quilts of music, but they are soft glittery shimmers hiding behind shrouds of mist.

As the first record where she has put herself front and centre, Wieland still keeps the world around her at arm’s length. The Brooklyn-based composer is more used to writing for others, but on Birthday Party she puts herself in the spotlight – albeit while simultaneously shrouding herself in haze and fog. Her compositions here lie somewhere between the layered vocal work of Julianna Barwick and the soft post rock of Sigur Rós. Her lyrics are sparse single sentences repeated downwards, acting like a flare shot down a deep, dark well. She mines a feeling until the sentiment risks losing meaning, conjuring layers of synth, piano, woodwind, and strings to swallow everything.

At its best, Birthday Party has some magical moments. “home” takes its wispy sentiment of “I guess I’ll go home” and – with the help of swirling strings and Adam Holmes’ drums – it feels like a hopeful end credits sequence to an indie movie. “i don’t mind” bathes Wieland’s voice in vocoder, channelling a sadness that she makes almost non-human as the words become more processed. Wieland’s wry sense of humour is still evident in her scant and sad lyrics though. “I’ll fall apart if I need to, I don’t mind” she incants with a fatalistic smile, while the iterations of “I’m having trouble making it through the year / and it’s only January” on “january” lean into a chilly, dry, and glazed-eyed delivery.

Where the record makes a misstep is at its end – and arguably at its most accessible entry point. Her closing cover of Modest Mouse’s “The World At Large” brings a Kimya Dawson-like lilt to the lyrics and bathes the track in a soft neon wash. It’s in line with her other recent covers, and while it’s a perfectly solid interpretation, its wordiness doesn’t fit with the careful, minimal lyrics of the seven tracks that precede it (her cover of Bo Burnham’s “All Eyes On Me” would have sat more comfortably here). For such a short album it’s not too much of a quibble, but Birthday Party would make a more lasting impression if it ended on a note that didn’t feel like something of a cop out.

At just over 27 minutes long, Birthday Party doesn’t demand too much time from the listener. Its brief instrumental tracks even seem to invite your attention to wander in and out. The warm nuzzle of “main street” flickers lightly but settles the air at the front end of the album while “drive thru” recalls Sarah Davachi’s Cantus Descant with its solemn organ tones; they are short moments and would be great to have opened up further. For an introduction though, Birthday Party is a promising start from a composer now working for herself.