Born Free Forever
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Bobby Birdman has forever been Portland’s Perry Como, with his soft, gentlemanly tenor and affinity for pop standard-sounding melodies. (Except Bobby Birdman is neither dead nor boring, and he’s actually a lot cuter than Perry was in his 20s–a blessing to us all.) On Born Free Forever , Bobby’s associations with the “Invisible Family Shield”–aka Yume Bitsu, Little Wings, Microphones, et al–burst through in soft-focus splendor, with a psychedelic, wispy recording aesthetic straight out of Phil Elvrum’s fantasy world. Above a woozy, dreamy sheath of electronics, piano, banjo, and harmonies, Bobby Birdman’s devotionals to the freeway, love, and the natural world produce a serenity that isn’t overwhelming or prosthetic. Neither is it coma-inducing, as some similar, ambient-psych tends to be. Born Free Forever is full of kinetic motion, where voices oscillate, a rocket lifts away, people exhale, swallow, and gulp, and Bobby’s voice sparkles. JULIANNE SHEPHERD
Bobby Birdman Let Me In [Hush; 2001]
A party is no place for introspection. Yet, when I’m thrown into an environment surrounded by people, most of whom don’t know me, I tend to find a quiet corner. Sure, a party is supposed to be a social gathering, but for whatever reason, I just can’t help being lulled into a space where only I exist. Thankfully, Chad Crouch and the crew over at Portland, Oregon’s Hush Records have made available a series of records under the “Anti-Rock” banner. Lacking ambition or exuberance, Hush records are perhaps the most conducive records available for those inappropriately introspective moments. And Bobby Birdman’s debut is no exception. Bobby Birdman is Rob Kieswetter’s stage name, and even sounds like a 1960’s throwback sort of pseudonym, which happens to perfectly reflect Birdman’s music. Singing of love, ominousness, and being cold, Let Me In reminds one of the Microphones’ Phil Elvrum was he to lose his analog fixation and begin toying with a Powerbook. But in traditional Hush form, these electronics are about as subtle as BjÅ¡rk’s swan dress, remaining calm and atmospheric. Accompanied by simple drum machine loops, a lulling, strummed acoustic guitar, and these inorganic treatments, Birdman’s voice resembles a tired Stephen Merritt trading in the throaty tenor for a smoothly delivered, wispy croon. “I Must Admit That I Love You” opens the record gently with a manipulated cymbal fade-in, which is overtaken by a primitive drum machine line resembling one of those credit card metronomes that were used in my middle school orchestra class. Not that this comes across as silly, but the aura of Let Me In resounds of little ambition and even less groundbreaking. A bassy drone complements Birdman’s voice as he moans the album’s eponymous line. The melody is sweet and nostalgic, and remains as such throughout the rest of the record. “Moving On/Up” and its instrumental counterpart, “Paradise Dub,” are based upon decelerated drum loops. An acoustic guitar lazily strums a single chord in time with the percussion, with leads the way for Elvrum-esque vocal “ahh’s” in harmony. “Moving” melds into “Paradise,” which plays the loop offset with a very subtle reference to the chord progression of the previous track. “Golden Arms” follows, an almost a cappella number backed by light backwards guitar lines. The lyrics, once again, draw a line to Elvrum: “I walked up the hill/ Into the dark/ Out of my body/ I moved undetected.” “J Tear” begins with a gratuitous three minutes of Birdman repeatedly counting out waltz-time with some echo manipulations, before fading into another mellow acoustic guitar number. “Hey Now” is a gorgeously simple song enshrouded in vocal harmonies, calming down to “Such an Icy Feeling,” another quasi-a cappella track in which the voice clicks from slight electronic manipulation, while quiet drones hum in the background. The record reaches a poppy apex with “Blue Skies,” complete with acoustic drums, other people’s voices, and a sing-along chorus: “There’ll be blue skies/ Nothing but blue skies.” Yet it never broaches the in-your-face border and collapses into a looped-vocal coda, after which Birdman breathes his last moan with the closer, “Perfect for Light.” On the whole, Let Me In may bore some with its lack of motivation and the seeming absence of passion, but to me, it seems like Let Me In was created for my wrong-place, wrong-time introspection. -Christopher F. Schiel, January 4th, 2002 Pitchfork
Bobby Birdman is the gorgeously pleasing musical alter ego of Rob Kieswetter. While his approach is similar to many of the other subtly affecting artists on the aptly named Hush Records, his use of electronics along with the singer/songwriter staple of acoustic guitar is a fantastic new element that distances Birdman from the crowd. At times Let Me In is reminiscent of The Good Life with sparse electronic accompaniment and sullen whispery vocals, while other incredibly abstract selections call to mind the final breaths from Joan Of Arc. Other moments cross into the range of simple acoustic troubadours, but still later selections are nearly Bjork-like in their predominance of non-linear beats and floating vocals. The Portland, OR based Birdman rarely lets up on the dreamy atmospherics that give the album its uninterrupted feel, and the recording, which seems to have been done at home, creates an incredibly warm vibe throughout. Executed at a relaxed pace, the entire record has a slow sleepy feel, but the ideas in BirdmanÃ•s back of tricks will probably have you trying to guess what heÃ•s up to next, not basking in tired boredom. Let Me In is a strong and promising debut that shows a creative songwriter who is aware of all his capabilities. The end results may be low-key and easy on the ears, and thatÃ•s only more impressive when you consider how much creativity there actually is on the record.
DELUSIONS OF ADEQUECY:
Hush Records embraces the label anti-rock, so much so that they themselves go out of the way to put, in big, bold letters, “Yawn” on their press material. That’s not to say it’s boring, although many people, as the label points out, might think so. It’s just unconventional in its penchant for quiet, sparse music by unique artists. And Bobby Birdman is a perfect fit. Bobby Birdman is the moniker of Rob Kieswetter, the singer/songwriter for this album. And despite the listing of three other musicians, this feels very much like a solo project, a work of one man and his own vision for quiet, simple pop songs. At times similar to Low, at times the Beatles, Kieswetter’s unique, slightly off-kilter vocal delivery and simple guitar lines form the framework for the songs here. Kieswetter almost warbles at times, almost whispers at others, and you get the sense that these songs would be just as good without the accompaniment, as if one man with a guitar in a tiny room could make them just as intimate and poignant. I don’t get far into the opener, “I Must Admit that I Love You,” without turning it up at least three times. The production as much as the instrumentation is responsible for the empty, quiet feeling this and most songs on Let Me In embraces. Just Kieswetter’s voice and a sparsely strummed guitar kick off the album before drums and piano add elements to the slightly more up-beat “Moving On/Up.” The percussion on this album is fairly repetitive, providing almost an electronic, dub-style beat that’s soft and flowing in the background, and that helps tie several of the songs together. But Kieswetter doesn’t need percussion. At times, there’s barely any accompaniment to his voice, as on “Golden Arms,” which he sings almost as a folk-style hymn, and “Such an Icy Feeling” that feels, to me, to be an a capela song dominated by silence. At times, there seems to be almost nothing at all, save for bits of a beat, which starts off “J Tear” and evolves into a kind of pleasant, melancholy pop song. And “Let Me In” is virtually drone-like, with an electronic hum behind the softest of music and softer yet vocals. That’s the opposite of the one true pop song here, “Blue Skies,” a Beach Boys-esque ditty that evokes images just like the title and even bears some similarities in structure to a more atmospheric Guided By Voices song. At times, Bobby Birdman is too quiet for my taste. Every time I listen to this album, I turn up the stereo enough to enjoy its subtleties and am blasted by noise when the next album comes on. Is it the production that makes things so bare, or is it the preference of Kieswetter and co., trying to do less with moreÃ‰or should I say less. Soft and sparse to say the least, there are still some simple and charming pop songs to be heard on Let Me In and some moments of very subtle beauty. Listen close, or you’ll miss them. -Delusions of Adequecy
Imagine if Arab Strap had a singer that had a lot more range (instead of just mumbling with a thick Scottish accent most of the time) and wasn’t so damn negative all the time, and what you end up with might just be Bobby Birdman (aka Rob Kiewwetter). Mixing electronics and occassional beats with nice guitar melodies, it’s basically folk rock with a twist, or whatever everyone else is calling it these days. These elements not only sprinkle into the songs, but allow them to flow over onto one another, making the album more of document of up and down emotions rather than a piece with 10 different tracks. In fact, the opening track on the album starts out with some of the most basic elements of the entire disc. With only a strum of guitar and a slight pitter-patter of a drum machine, the vocals of Kieswetter take the center stage and provide for a delicate beginning before a slowed-down, chunky hip-hop beat starts rumbling along on “Moving On/Up.” Juxtaposing it nicely, though, is a light acoustic guitar melody and crooning vocals that sound like they’ve been sung into a tin can. That same beat continues for the next short instrumental track before it drops out and the minimal “Golden Arms.” With only low-end hums and backward guitars for backing, the track keeps the same sort of off-kilter, woozy feel that the first few started. The centerpiece of the album is the 8-minute “J Tear” and it may just take a couple listens for it to sink in. Starting out with over two minutes of looped, whispered counting vocals, it lulls you off before a building guitar melody and vocals come in and overtake it to create a pretty love song that takes one back to the period of the 60’s from which Birdman took his moniker. On “Such An Icy Feeling,” things are again stripped down to only sampled breathing and vocals which are cut-up to fit with the simple lyrics before they cut out completely and electronic tones ping-pong back and forth for the remainder. The rock-out moment at the beginning of “Blue Skies” feels a touch out-of-place coming after all the quiet and introspection, but given that the song is also about such, the sing-song refrain ends up working pretty well. Another artist that I also find myself slightly reminded by is the work of Frankie Sparo if his guitar and electronic work weren’t so jagged and cold. By the time that you get to the quiet closer of “Perfect For Light,” the album has from quiet to loud and back to soft again, and it’s an interesting release for those who like the “guy with a guitar plus” sound (Badly Drawn Boy tends to be a bit more lush in production, but could even be a dropping-off point). For a debut album, there are a lot of excellent things going on, and hopefully things only get more so in the future. – Allmost Cool
Bobby Birdman (real name Rob Kieswetter) plays a sedate sort of soul music that at the same time isn’t sedate at all. He uses guitar and close-to-invisible (but important) electronics to pull you into a near-sleep state, and then sweetly croons into your ear about love and life and such. “I must admit that I love you,” he starts off, then taking you on a sublimely melodic dream journey through loneliness and comfort, passion and sadness. Each song has a romantic, relaxed loveliness to it, with Kieswetter singing his heart out even when he’s whispering. For me the winning lullaby here is “Blue Skies,” an alluring anthem that made itself a permanent home in my brain the first time I heard it. “Your eyes were closed but your foot was still tapping/and that’s how I knew that I hadn’t lost you,” Kieswetter sings on the last track, and he could be speaking to us. By album’s end, there’s no way he’s lost us. Let Me In pulls us into a dream land and then kisses our collective brow with pop magic. –Dave Heaton, Erasing Clouds
Let Me In is a fascinating singer-songwriter record. Along with “Paradise Dub”, which twittles forward like a bizarre drum machine test program, there’s a three-minute barrage of whispered one-two-threes patrolling the soap-and-sudsy entrance of “J Tear” (in which Birdman proclaims, “I truly do believe in love”). While the intro is far less interesting after the third or fourth time you wade through it, there’s no denying the fascinating power of Kieswetter’s softly delivered vocals. I wonder if he could fill twenty minutes of CD space just muttering “Wipeout”?
Normally, with CDs that have an imbalance of aural and lyrical delights, it is hard to let your hips go and sway to the melodies; if a half man/half bird hybrid is doing the manipulation, losing yourself in the music may become even harder. It might therefore work best to leave the group’s Birdman moniker (used tocarry on the spirit of frivolous surfer records from the sixties) at the door, and allow the songs’ sweet melodic waves pull lyrics (“Controlled by an abscess / Or absence of wonder”) ashore that are, as often as not, awkward and nonsensical, but always on the same wavelength as birds. Like Denison Witmer, Bobby Birdman are not making records to redefine the boundaries of the heart, but to duplicate the beauties of the morning, when “love at first sight” situations are possible. Talking about lifelong commitment to Bobby Birdman’s work makes me feel nutty and irrational, but just thinking about their future output brings a smile. When the album ends, abruptly, the pains from the lament, “How I’ve Missed You”, have already given way to anticipation of every whispered four, five and six that’s still to come. – Theodore Defosse, Splendid
Let Me In Bobby Birdman Hush Records
One of my favorite things to do is to fall asleep while listening to music on headphones. There is that brief, but exquisite evanescence that descends just before dropping off to sleep, that seems like a brief, sublime glimpse of heaven. It is precisely that sound (or space) that Bobby Birdman has captured on this ten-song masterpiece. Bobby Birdman is the pen-name of Rob Kieswetter, an enterprising young singer/songwriter with a musical umbilical cord that stretches back to Brian Wilson, in the acid-laced haze of his Smile period; and beyond, back to the days of Juan Esquivel and cool bachelor pad music. Combining laidback (think: nearly unconscious) arrangements, which seem to pro…gr…ess at… halffff….. s…p…e…e…dÃ‘ a drowsy saunter of a pace that sticks to the inside of yer brain like sonic peanut butter. For an example, consult the funereal waltz of Ã’I Must Admit That I Love You.Ã“ Occasional autoharp stabs are propelled by a white noise snare and a flickering metronome-like sound, as Rob purports to clue us in with Ã’IÃ•d been away for a spell I was under/Controlled by an abscess or absence of wonder/But beauty will come and recline/Dressed in a shield made of light.Ã“ Still, KieswetterÃ•s inventiveness and spirit of experimentation abound throughout this imaginatively constructed album. Kieswetter refers to many experimental musicians, such as Lamonte Young, Yoko Ono, Kathy Berberian, John Cage and Harry Partch in creating some tracks. Check out the crazy waltz rhythm of Ã’J Tear,Ã“ created by multi-tracking himself counting to three, then breaking these components into hypnotic fragments, which bob upon the surface of consciousness like leaves upon a still lake. Another example of KieswetterÃ•s cleverness is the beat derived from the simple act of breathingÃ‘ which extends through the suite of Ã’Such An Icy FeelingÃ“ and the title track, Ã’Let Me In. Ã’ Radiohead-like digital manipulations beep and zibbet over RobÃ•s deep-breathing percussion. Very cool. A seriously syncopated drum loop drives Ã“Moving On/Up,Ã“ as Rob accompanies the beat with earnest nylon-string acoustic guitar and random intermittent synth interjections. His ethereal vocal creates a distinct ambiance sort of like Lennon meeting Major Tom at Woodstock in 1969 to split a hit of brown acid.Ã’Golden ArmsÃ“ is a transfixing spacewalk, where backwards guitars sweep and swirl around KieswetterÃ•s detached vocals, as moody organ pedal points follow along. Strangely mystical and weird. After about three minutes of waltzing around with RobÃ•s ciphering, Ã’J TearÃ“ eventually evolves into a lovely little ballad, replete with Beatle-esque background vocals, abetted by Abra Ancliffe. Ã’Hey NowÃ“ more or less continues the mood-altering mood, with Zak Riles adding mournful violin lines to the mix. The Beach Boys spring to mind on Ã’Blue Skies,Ã“ with chiming background vocals sustained against bouyant acoustic guitar, maracas and other percussive manifestations. Ã’Perfect For LightÃ“ is the most straightforward number of the set, one simple vocal and two indistinct acoustic guitars. Rob Kieswetter is a 21st century troubadour, who combines modern electronic elements and concepts with off-kilter ballads, producing strange, subliminal music that should only be listened to at the edges of sleep, where it all makes utter and complete sense; and where Rob is regarded as a brilliant artistic prodigy.
Little Wings and Bobby Birdman hail from the majestically strummed, sometimes strolling, fellow-with-a-guitar camp. Their songs are simple, poignant, and astutely catchy all at the same time. Sometimes they walk around the club, find a comfortable seat, and do their set from there. -The Mercury
Fully expect to faint at this show, especially if you are the kind of person who thinks acoustic singer-songwriters all sound the same. Not only are all these boy-crooners the absolute dreamiest when it comes to honesty and sensitivity, but their voices and styles are distinct. One of my new favorites is Bobby Birdman, whose tissue-soft warbles remind me of the swooniest parts of Henry Mancini. -The Mercury