Bobby Birdman New Moods

[Fryk Beat; 2009]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: deconstructed dancehall pop
Others: Hot Chip, YACHT

New Moods, Robert Kieswetter’s latest effort as Bobby Birdman, presents a schizophrenic departure from 2003’s Born Free Forever. While that album’s plaintive acoustic songs placed Kieswetter in a camp with other gifted indie songwriters like Will Oldham or Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum, New Moods finds him pitching his tent much closer to electronic dance-pop gurus like Jona Bechtolt, whom he worked with on YACHT’s 2007 opus I Believe in You. Your Magic Is Real.

It’s unclear whether Kieswetter intended the title of his new set as an inside joke or a literal declaration that things would be moving in a different direction from here on out. Either way, New Moods offers a radical change only hinted at on his Heart Caves EP, channeling a whole new list of influences. Where previous work grafted Neil Young’s straightforward lyrics and delicate sense of melody onto fluid structures, the new songs combine Elvis Costello’s sardonic wit, Peter Hook’s spirited bass lines, and the whimsy of Surfin’ U.S.A.-era Beach Boys to form a restless fusion that could work as either folky campfire music or choice material for a Friday night DJ set.

There’s a shift in viewpoint as well. Before, Kieswetter seemed like the stereotypical world-weary philosopher, but on “You’d Be Surprised,” he’s both a smooth salesman and modern pied piper, claiming, “I could have a bridge to sell you/ One to carry you away and listen to lies/ You’d be surprised.” But the role of despondent observer never quite fit Kieswetter, who first emerged as the bright-eyed Malibu surfer serving as Kyle Field’s sidekick in Little Wings. It was Field who gave him the Bobby Birdman moniker, and at times, these alterations to his sound seem to be the real Robert Kieswetter shaking off that persona.

Still, it’s ironic that when Kieswetter nods to his former, more acoustic-oriented self on “Weighty Wait,” he manages to record one of the album’s best moments. Warm and rapturous, the song catches Kieswetter in a romantic mood, but, true to the album’s optimistic mindset, it’s sanguine and hopeful. In one sense, he seems to be happiest when he’s in love -- or at least when he’s singing about it. With a wry grin, he strums his guitar and pines, “While I wait here by this window/ While my life begins to swing/ I could stay this way forever.”

Kieswetter understands these changes may prove enigmatic for some, but for his part, he seems certain that they work in the context in which he’s placed them. While some of his experimentation may be misguided -- “Bloody Mess” is a peculiar hip-hop/dubstep mash-up that ends up being exactly what its title implies; both “Dust Design” and “Silent But Violent” feel underdeveloped -- it goes without saying that, with a talent as remarkable as Kieswetter's, a slight misstep here and there can easily be overlooked. Besides, aesthetic shortcomings should be expected with any true experimentation.

1. Only For A While
2. Dust Design
3. What You Say
4. Weighty Wait
5. Victory At Sea
6. Bloody Mess
7. Silent But Violent
8. You’d Be Surprised
9. Setting Sun
10. Truth Be Told
11. Well Sprung
12. Back and Forth

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