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Born Free Forever

Bobby Birdman
Born Free Forever
(Hush Records)

The last time I checked in with Rob Kieswetter, he had released his debut album Let Me In, a mixture of programmed beats, acoustic guitar, and a touch of medium-fi noodling. Just over a year later, he returns with Born Free Forever, a rather grand step in his songcraft that moves in much more grandiose directions of layered pop music. It's also with this release that his pseudonym of Bobby Birdman becomes much more fitting. While his last album showed off some of his singing chops, this new release finds him reborn as a crooner of the likes that would have such a name.

After opening with a swell of sound, the album drops down to only reverbed vocals and piano on the opener of "Born Free." As the track progresses, it slowly picks up other layers, including another layer of vocals, percussion, and some subtle synths. By the end, it has reached a nice peak, and drops off directly into the humming "So The Blood." Most of the same instruments are on the track, but everything is buried behind a roll of programmed clicks before the background distorted drums kick in. The soft dynamic changes aren't hard and dynamic, but still work quite well, and help put the album in a similar category with albums like The Soft Bulletin by the Flaming Lips.

A lot of people would consider that a rather lofty assessment, but Born Free Forever does have many things in common with that landmark release, including a great sense of melody and luscious layers of sound. "The Fear" mixes acoustic guitar, piano, lots of layered vocals and waves of low-end hum for a dense track that still manages to breath while "Fire" mixes many-part vocals into a devastating melody over acoustic guitar and warm folds of synths.

The album doesn't forget to be playful once in awhile either, as "Here I Am, All Brokenhearted" throws horns, chimes, and accordian into the compact, fun track. "I Said 'Oh,' The Wind Said 'No!" is one of the better orchestral pop tracks that I've heard in quite some time, as a cello mixes a bit more of a sublime feel into the delicate track. In the end, it's a pretty delightful album of sweeping pop arrangements. It drags a slight bit in a couple places (like the overlong "I Hope/I Grow"), but literally very nearly always has something going on. It's definitely a big step up in overall sound, and if you like grand pop music that isn't afraid to overreach once in awhile (like Badly Drawn Boy without as much bop), you should definitely check it out.

Rating: 7.75