From the very first sound of the album — a gutsy guitar chord packed with an extra dose of angsty twang — it’s clear that Ben Kweller’s latest, Go Fly A Kite, is going to be decidedly rock ‘n’ roll. The Texan has released four previous major albums, most of which follow a strict feel-good pop-rock protocol. They were mere hints at his folk roots, until he created the latest (and not so greatest) before Go Fly A Kite: 2009’s Changing Horses, a foray into country-soaked rock. Go Fly A Kite is easily discernable — Kweller has returned to rock, but not without toting a hell of a lot of folk in his bindle.

Ben Kweller

Go Fly a Kite
The Noise Company

Kweller’s finally back, this time with his own label, The Noise Company. His return to less-folky rock sounds a little muddled, but the album proves that Kweller and his music are insanely likeable, so fans shouldn’t be too disappointed.

Back to that first guitar chord. “Mean To Me” is tense, upbeat and irritated right off the bat. A harmony-driven melody makes the song instantly listenable and sets the stage for a lot more angst.

“Out The Door” is the first track to deliver some of the leftover twang from Changing Horses. It’s almost like the soundtrack to a rodeo, as Kweller emphasizes his drawl, singing “you bleed ’til you’re bled, you feed ’til you’re fed.”

“Jealous Girl” — and it’s Ben Kweller, so she’s actually a “juh-juh-juh-jealous” girl — rings with optimism (that is, until you listen closely to the lyrics) and is the most purely Kwell-ish song of the bunch. He doesn’t say much — he’s basically lamenting a girl’s envy for four minutes — but he’s still charming as can be, so the lack of depth is allowable.

On “Gossip,” he continues the anger-ridden streak, crooning “everybody hears what they want to hear / it makes them feel so big / secrets in their ears.” “Free” is grungy and sports a highly skilled guitar solo, one of Kweller’s strong suits. He toys with bouncing from a hushed singing voice to a booming shriek, finally layering in his own harmonized background track.

The album is filled with way more torment than any of Kweller’s earlier albums, but this comes across mostly in the lyrics: With Kweller’s trademark spunk weaved through each chord, everything initially sounds as happy-go-lucky as ever.

With only one kind-of-ballad (“I Miss You”), it’s safe to say this is an up-tempo album and a well-done one at that. But for Kweller fans, Go Fly A Kite will sound like a step backward. He should be commended for the accomplishment of starting his own label, but this album is a bit like a revamped version of what he’s already done. Music doesn’t have to sound new to the artist in order to be good, but it’s a lot more exciting when it does.

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