Ben Kweller | Go Fly a Kite (The Noise Company)

kweller goflyWhere Go Fly a Kite excels is in its craft: the way verses and choruses brush up against each other in just the right way, the way not a single note feels wasted or out of place, the way Kweller can repeat a refrain just often enough to drill it into your subconscious without tipping over into obnoxiousness.

 

Ben Kweller’s fifth solo album, Go Fly a Kite, hit store shelves back in February, which may lead one to wonder why on earth I’m penning a review of it when it’s almost time to flip the calendar over into June. Isn’t this album already yesterday’s news? Perhaps, but I’m glad I waited. Sometimes a relationship with an album is a lot like a relationship with a person, where it takes time for its personality to truly reveal itself. Had I written this review back when the album first landed in my hot little hands, it would have certainly been positive, as I liked it right off the bat. But now that I’ve spent months getting to know its quirks in intimate detail? I’m kind of in love.
 
Make no mistake: Go Fly a Kite isn’t some grand artistic statement, nor is it a quantum leap forward in Kweller’s artistry; honestly, there’s isn’t anything here that would seem terribly out of place on any of Kweller’s previous albums. No, where Go Fly a Kite excels is in its craft: the way verses and choruses brush up against each other in just the right way, the way not a single note feels wasted or out of place, the way Kweller can repeat a refrain just often enough to drill it into your subconscious without tipping over into obnoxiousness. The songs are summery and just plain pleasant (even the ones tinged in sadness), pure pop so loveable that after listening to it every day for a week, I still felt myself pining for it over the weekend after accidentally leaving the CD at work.
 
The album crashes in with “Mean to Me” (as in “you don’t know what you mean to me,” not the much more boring sentiment “You are/were so mean to me”), a driving rocker with chugging guitars, bleating horns, and lyrics so catchy that even the verses have hooks (you’re just as likely to get the tossed-off couplet “Don’t regret bein’ the ragged kid/ Don’t regret anything I ever di-id” stuck in your head as you are the chorus). Here, Kweller has perfect control over the song’s pacing, exercising a gradual build that explodes into electric guitar heroics, then the instruments drop out for a run through a muted redux of the chorus before one final run-though where Kweller’s boyish croon turns into a ragged yell. It’s the classic Nirvana loud-quiet-loud dynamic played through the spectrum of a three minute pop love song, and it’s absolutely perfect. Then Kweller takes a right turn into folk with “Out the Door,” where a simplistic, loping acoustic guitar beat, a wriggling lead guitar figure, and basic yet energetic drumbeat meld together to sound as if the Violent Femmes had served as the backing band for Blonde on Blonde. Once again, Kweller masterfully uses the drop out on the penultimate chorus, using only the kick drum as the accompaniment for a singalong tailor made for live settings.
 
Though Kweller plays guitar live and his best-known songs (“Wasted & Ready,” “Commerce TX”) were guitar-driven, Go Fly a Kite is, perhaps surprisingly, a piano-driven record. “Jealous Girl” is a mid-tempo ‘70s-style piano rocker with a Billy Joel heart, some Beach Boys harmonies, and a “Whoa-oh-oh-oh!” intro that pushes the chorus over the top despite some lyrics that on paper seem insurmountably dopey (“Can’t you let your boyfriend be himself, sweet Jealous girl, oh jealous girl?/ Only one yer hurtin’, baby, is yourself, sweet jealous girl”). “Full Circle” and album closer “You Can Count on Me” ride along on jaunty pianos, sunny vocal harmonies, and good vibes, while “Gossip” breaks up the sunshine with a few minor key clouds. The swelling, gorgeous ballad “The Rainbow” provides a late album highlight, a swelling, gorgeous, string-laden ballad that could have been a real tearjerker but instead finds Kweller looking inward, wondering “Why do I sing these songs – all of these mixtures of pain?”
 
Adding to Go Fly a Kite’s sense of fun is the album packaging, which Kweller clearly decided to go all-out on for the first release on his own label, the Noise Company. The album sleeve (in both LP and CD incarnations) folds into a diorama featuring guitar-wielding, kite-flying Ben Kwellers battling an army of skeletons, while the booklet serves as an “instruction manual” for the album, providing both lyrics and chord progressions so the listener can play along at home. A | Jason Green
 
RIYL: Guster, Steel Train, Brendan Benson

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