Gustav Ejstes, the Swedish wunderkind known as Dungen, produced New Beard City, the debut album from Brooklyn's New Beard, but his jolly and frosty fingerprints aren't all over the record. To be sure, Ejstes' signature slabs of processed guitar cast a spell on the band's guitarist Yazan, and the massed vocals on the Fleet-Foxes-meet-cocktail-jazz mash-up "Given" points to Dungen's calling card LP, Ta Det Lugnt. But these NYC weird beards aren't overshadowed by their famous producer. That's because they have their very own freaky genius in singer, songwriter and New Beard brain-trust Ben Wigler.
In his previous band, the Asheville-based Arizona, Wigler pursued quirky pop perfection, fusing the deliciously overcooked theme park Americana of American Music Club and Van Dyke Parks with Sgt. Pepper's go-for-broke experimentalism.
New Beard City is both more focused and more freaked-out than anything in Arizona's back catalog. Wigler takes a geeky fanboy's delight in the Beard's magpie pickings. Look, groovy flute atop The Left Banke's baroque & roll! ("Solamente Cloud.") Ooh, a stately spaghetti western soundtrack backing The Beach Boys! ("Arizona Angels.") With Wigler's helium-high tenor constant throughout the smorgasbord of musical genres, the flurry of stylistic shifts ensure that nothing sticks around long enough to outwear its welcome.
That this tonal genre-jumping isn't whiplash-inducing is a testament to the band's virtuosity and weirdly wonderful pop smarts. Ingredients that would be gimmicks for a lesser band — a tuba holds down the low end instead of the traditional bass — are fully organic and integrated. It doesn't hurt that Wigler's arrangements are sugary smooth, and always in the service of odd but familiar-sounding songs.
Surprising, entertaining and emotionally satisfying, New Beard City is that hipster rock rarity: A second-generation crate digger's delight where all the influences have subsumed and transformed into something fresh and original.