Two of a Kind 

Ben Kweller and Tim Fite: the lover and the comic

They’re like the buddy team from a romantic teen comedy: Ben Kweller is the shy, earnest heart-on-the-sleeve lead, kneecapped by unrequited desire, and Tim Fite could be his clever, energetic-but-geeky sidekick.
They’re like the buddy team from a romantic teen comedy: Ben Kweller is the shy, earnest heart-on-the-sleeve lead, kneecapped by unrequited desire, and Tim Fite could be his clever, energetic-but-geeky sidekick. Both came up around the fringes of New York’s post-millennial anti-folk scene and then veered off in their own directions.

Kweller’s shambling, heartfelt indie rock aches beneath a spurned tenor croon, whether wondering why she won’t “Hear Me Out” or capitulating to “How It Should Be (Sha Sha).” His tone lands him somewhere between the wide-eyed wonder of Jonathan Richman and the curdled innocence of Lou Barlow, a bit too sensitive, but not a rube.

In many ways, Kweller’s career mirrors that of Australian singer/songwriter Ben Lee. Like the former Noise Addict frontman, Kweller began playing music at a young age, and had completed several albums with his band, Radish (dubbed America’s answer to Silverchair), before graduating high school. Each moved to New York shortly thereafter.

Both Lee and Kweller profess admiration for Lemonheads singer Evan Dando, and like Dando, favor humble pop ballad entreaties fueled by furious power-pop strumming. (See Kweller’s “Sundress,” in which he pleads, “I’ll do anything you want me to / for you.”) In 2003, they actually collaborated with Ben Folds on a tour and self-titled EP under the moniker, The Bens.

Kweller followed that the next year with the release of his second album, On My Way, for the Dave Matthews-run RCA subsidiary, ATO Records. The album attempted to match Kweller’s success with ballads and a higher quotient of rockers to mixed success.

Far more impressive was last year’s self-titled third album, on which Kweller played all the instruments himself, delivering his most consistent album to date. It’s a surprisingly assured and catchy affair, from the bouncy, ’70s pop-rock vibe of “I Gotta Move” to the roots-rock amble of “Run” and the Tom Petty-meets-the-Modern-Lovers new-wave twang of “Don’t Know Why.”

Where previously Kweller got by in large measure on the strength of his boyish charm and sincerity, he’s begun to match those gifts with the necessary musicianship for continued musical growth, instead of falling into rote repetition and arrested development. (Hello, Everclear.)

Opening for Kweller is rather unique talent Tim Fite. Fite got his start as half of the humorous rap duo Little T and One Track Mike, garnering some attention for a song dedicated to a persistent wrong number, “Shaniqua,” off 2001’s Fome Is Dape. But the partnership fell apart, and Fite emerged as a solo artist. His offbeat, sample-heavy folk-hop style drew comparisons to Beck, with whom he shares an aesthetic more than a sound.

Fite’s 2003 debut EP, Two Minute Blues, is a coy, ramshackle blues romp whose ragged, amateur piss boasts a goofy allure—think Bob Log III’s short-bus riding cousin. He followed that a year later with his full-length debut, Gone Ain’t Gone, for Epitaph offshoot Anti-.

A huge step forward, Fite delivers an incredibly focused, captivating album. The impeccably produced tracks range from the bagpipe-driven old-timey elegy “Toasted Rye” to the jangly hipster rock of “No Good Here” to the surf punk rave “If I Had a Cop Show” and the creepy gospel bluegrass-psych of “I Hope Yer There.” While the music was catchy and accessible, some of Fite’s irreverent humor got lost.

Fite makes up for it with his March follow-up, Over the Counterculture, a savage satire that eviscerates hip-hop’s shallow fascinations and our nation’s avid consumerism. Fite felt it hypocritical to sell his capitalist critique, so he’s made it available for free download from his website, timfite.com.

Immediately the album created a stir, and for good reason: it’s some of the funniest shit since Ween were on top of their game. It’s highlighted by the hilarious “I’ve Been Shot,” which cops the same sense of music biz-borne credulity as Art Brut’s “Formed a Band.” Over a cocktail jazz groove, Fite recounts the many times, ways and places he’s taken a bullet, and what a great career move it’s been, noting, “I could tell that it’s the gun play that drives the crowd crazy / every now and then I ask somebody to graze me. (‘Just shoot me a little bit, man. Make it look good.’)” Almost as good is “Camouflage,” a quirky, rocking little track that recalls the late Warren Zevon and equates fashion and conformity with the rush to war.

Fite isn’t letting the momentum go to waste, either. He has plans to put out another album—for sale this time—before the end of the year. Given how dour and self-serious rock and hip-hop have become in the last decade, Fite’s return is eagerly anticipated.

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