Thank You Happy Birthday

Click to listen to Cage the Elephant's "Shake Me Down"

Can a nostalgia trip also be future shock? Cage the Elephant think so. The Kentucky band's 2009 debut staked out a middle ground between crusty classic sounds — punk, garage, blues — and the digitized sheen of the 21st century, earning the group a rock-radio hit in "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked." Thank You Happy Birthday begins in the same territory: Over the atmospheric fuzz and wobbly funk of "Always Something," singer Matthew Shultz is full of wide-eyed paranoia. "Around the corner/There's always something waiting for ya," he sings in a shriek that owes something to Liam Gallagher and something to a power mower.

Breaking: Cage the Elephant

Cage the Elephant keep up the high-strung racket for most of Thank You Happy Birthday, zipping through broadsides like "Sell Yourself" and "Indy Kidz," which rails against television and bohemian trendies. Cage the Elephant treat their guitars like percussion instruments, filling the songs with all kinds of clanging, crashing and thudding, and augmenting the clamor with buzzing keyboards. They have a secret weapon, too: pop melody. "Shake Me Down" is all dreamy Beatlesque psychedelia, and in "Rubber Ball," Cage quiet down for a hushed lullaby. Shultz coos, "All I got is nothing but a little bit of love." He's got another thing, actually: one of rock's best young bands.

Gallery: Keep up with rock's hottest photos in Random Notes

From The Archives Issue 1122: January 20, 2011