Artist to Watch: Michael Bernard Fitzgerald's Debut Is Refreshingly Unaffected

In 2009, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald graduated from high school and traveled from Canada to Australia with $4,000, an iPhone, and a camera. He had no plan, but a spirit of adventure that landed him five months of shifts waiting tables and crewing a boat. The result was his first album, The MBF Love LP. His second album, Yes, debuts today, and in it, you can hear the same self-determination and nonchalance that marked Fitzgerald’s insouciant journey.

At first listen, Fitzgerald’s music is nothing extraordinary. An acoustic guitar and electronic piano add some flare to his raspy, and, at times, shrill voice. All sound like something a college hipster would play on their MacBook while drinking home brew. But on second listen, Yes winds its way into your mind. Before you realize it, your foot is tapping along to the beat, and what originally sounded banal stands out as refreshingly unaffected, especially in an industry full of would-be Bob Dylans. Lyrics like, “Love is the answer to the questions you’ve got,” and “My heart I will follow, my pride I will swallow,” don’t strike the poet’s heart, nor is the upbeat single “Firecracker” quite as fun as songs like Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” But Yes is an easy listen, and when Fitzgerald sings his Rs with a lisp (he pronounces “room” as “womb”) and laughs in the middle of a song, it’s downright endearing.

Fitzgerald's album shows his range as an artist. You can dance along to the drums in “Firecracker,” but “Love is an Easy Thing to Miss” is stripped down to Fitzgerald’s clipped voice and the twang of his acoustic guitar. “In the Woods” is soulful; when Fitzgerald whines, “Weeeeee’re in the woods,” it makes me think of the Louisiana backwoods, even though he’s talking about Hollywood, where Yes was recorded.

Fitzgerald’s crying voice makes it sound as if being in the woods isn’t such a good thing, but that’s about as gloomy as he gets. His music is light and carefree, which is part of its appeal. “Human” has a catchy beat that won't let you be sad, even as Fitzgerald sings lines like, “I just can’t figure out, I work too hard to be losing, it’s so hard to be human,” and references the difficulty of paying rent, loosing a job, and breaking up with a girlfriend. The chorus of child-like voices implies a hopeful community that empathizes with the difficulties of everyday life.

Despite some serious subject matter, and a good dose of repetition (it's both hypnotizing and annoying when Fitzgerald repeats the line “last train to Georgia” almost 30 times in five minutes), Yes is a catchy and enjoyable album, and it’s well worth the listen.