Andrew Bird might be the best-dressed man in indie pop with a sophisticated sound to match. His croon is like a pillow in your eardrum, and his whistle can sweep the most unsuspected listeners off their feet. His unique use of plucking and looping his violin is encouraging to all school band and orchestra players wondering what they could possibly do with their skills after they graduate. Even in today’s surge of classical instrumentation in popular music, he’s found a way to take a simple foundation and make it all his own.
Noble Beast saw Bird play with the formula a bit, writing songs with a more rustic feel, but also adding a little more sound manipulation. While a good album in its own right, Bird seeks to do fans one better with his latest, Break It Yourself, taking from a larger pallet and bumping up the production value even more.
The album opens on a high note with “Desperation Breeds … .” Under a lo-fi haze comes Bird’s trademark violin, plucked among volume swells and hushed vocals, giving way to typically gorgeous guitar and singing, with those airy vocals still looming around back. It appears that Bird took a page out of Chris Taylor’s book. The song develops perfectly, adding soft drums and bouncy but subdued bass. It may very well be his best opening track to date.
By the end of the opener and into “Danse Carribe,” it’s easy to notice that Bird is becoming more comfortable with showing off his virtuosity on record. Here, he starts with a traditional country-folk vibe, evolving into an uptempo ditty. This, of course, lends itself to a fiddle solo, which Bird performs with great aplomb.
“I didn’t know that your love was a commodity,” Bird sings alongside awesome interplay between upright bass and fast-plucked violin on “Give It Away.” The fun ends when a strain of sadness peers through on “Lazy Projector.” Coming in as the first ballad of the album, the sarcasm yields to a serious plead he seems to be making, saying, “I can’t see the sense in us breaking up at all.” The beautiful tune even includes a lyrical callback to “Armchairs.”
Elsewhere, we see Annie Clark appear on the nice “Lusitania.” Fans may have seen the two perform this one live when they toured together a couple of years back. It’s nice to hear Clark’s voice over softer music.
As on his past couple of albums, Bird includes a longer tune (for him, more than seven minutes), this one is “Hole in the Ocean Floor,” the first to break eight minutes. It has a very soft and slow development, with a typically beautiful melody. Bird also takes the time to flex his virtuoso muscles on this one, but he constantly emotes on his instrument, serving as a reminder that it is still possible to solo tastefully. The piece never explodes, it’s just a mood-setting sort of piece that is nothing short of lovely.
It’s so easy to fall in love with the sound of Bird’s music that sometimes it’s hard to actually notice the songs themselves. The good thing is that he really does bring the goods time in and time out. Still, one can’t help but get the feeling that, at 60 minutes, the album runs a tad too long. But which songs could have been left out? It’s tough to say because all the tracks are on a similar level of quality. Perhaps it’s that the dynamic first half was met with a more mellow second half. In any case, Break It Yourself is yet another welcome addition to Bird’s catalog, and one can only imagine how nicely these tracks will translate on stage.
Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself tracklist:
- “Desperation Breeds … “
- “Danse Carribe”
- “Give It Away”
- “Lazy Projector”
- “Near Death Experience Experience”
- “Things Behind the Barn”
- “Orpheo Looks Back”
- “Fatal Shore”
- “Hole in the Ocean Floor”