So far, it’s been a good year to buy physical albums. First, Lost Lander’s awesome “Planetarium” packaging for DRRT that projects the night sky onto your ceiling when combined with a flashlight. Now, Ben Kweller‘s radical little diorama with an illustration by Josh Cochran on Go Fly a Kite, not to mention an “Instruction Manual” that includes guitar chords for all the album’s songs. Order the vinyl edition and you might be the lucky owner of a limited-run cream-colored pressing.
There are two important things to note about Kweller’s latest: After taking a little detour into country music territory on 2009’s Changing Horses, Kweller is mostly back to meshing delirious pop hooks with little hints of that old classic rock sound; and Go Fly a Kite is the musician’s first release on his own independent label, The Noise Company. If there was ever a best time to support this guy’s music, it’s now, because I love seeing great artists go off on their own and show that they can do their own thing the way they want to do it. Lucky for Kweller, he’s always pretty much had that freedom, and his records are consistently amazing, but Go Fly a Kite is (as far as I’m concerned) his best since Sha Sha, his debut album — due in no small part, I’m sure, to his commitment to succeeding on his own.
Before I start in on the rest of the album, I need to talk about one of my very favorite sounds I’ve ever heard in a song ever. There are two moments just about three-quarters of the way through “Full Circle” where Kweller sings “ooo ooo ooo ooo” like an excited wolf puppy, and I can’t remember the last time a song filled me with so much happiness. The first couple of times I played the song through, it was a really delightful surprise because one moment I was just enjoying the melody and the next, I had a gigantic grin on my face and it felt like finding out the boy you like likes you back. The next several times I played the song through, I would lean forward, waiting for it, and jump up and down a little when it happened. Try singing along to it. You can throw away your prescription for antidepressants and thank Dr. Kweller for providing the cure.
While I fully admit that it’s my favorite song on the album (potentially even my favorite song of Kweller’s career) I feel I should probably talk about some of the others, as is proper of an album review. Kweller’s power-pop has always carried with it a bit of twang, and it can be heard from the first riffs on Go Fly a Kite opener “Mean to Me.” The refrain has an undeniable Tom Petty quality to it (see also, “Free”) until after a boisterous instrumental breakdown when Kweller takes to shouting the lyrics, “You don’t know what you mean to me,” tailor made to blow the roof off a rock show.
Kweller’s jangle and twang step into the spotlight for following track “Out the Door,” which takes turns upstaging the catalogs of Toad the Wet Sprocket and The Monkees; throw this one on a road mix for optimal enjoyment. Don’t worry, Beatles fans — for you, Kweller’s got “Gossip” (see also, “You Can Count on Me”), a sprightly piano waltz with hints of gospel and a heavyset chorus of vocal harmonies. And forgive me for saying so, but “Time Will Save the Day” is one of the best Weezer songs I’ve ever heard.
Simple piano chords drive Kweller’s ballad, “The Rainbow,” riding on maudlin lyrics: “Why do I sing these songs? All of these mixtures of pain about a girl with too many wrongs, finding the words to complain.” Despite its presence as one of the more trite things Kweller’s ever done, it’s undeniably pretty and another one of my favorite songs on the album.