Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Andrew Bird — Break it Yourself

Andrew Bird has long been somebody I was aware of, and quite enjoyed, but for some reason, I guess, I just underrated him.

I saw him open for Kristin Hersh, years ago, playing all alone.  Quite frankly, he blew me away.  He played first (before Howe Gelb, even!) and I still was aware that, while he was up there, looping pizzicati, flaying around, generally like a madman, that I was witnessing something unique.  It's taken a while, but by the time Noble Beast was released I was a fan.

This time, I'm just more in tune to him than ever before.  He's tuned into acoustic music that seems to be reminiscent of my favorites, but also in a way that doesn't seem repetitious, either.  In fact, the one minute introduction to the first track 'Desperation Breeds' does more than any one moment I can think of to illustrate just how subtly unique Andrew Bird has become.  That this is essentially just an intro vamp consisting of his looped and treated pizzicati, but somehow melds seamlessly into an acoustic arpeggio of the tune proper — and this, in turn, morphs into a colorful sunrise of whistling and pizzicato brilliance— is just a shining example.  To sit through it with an attentive ear is to know sheer rewards as a music fan.

The changes —so subtle, so nuanced— are there.  Yes, I get that he records his music on an isolated farm (as has been pointed out in a billion reviews), but I hear music that would sound that way regardless of where it was recorded.  This is warm, rootsy, brilliantly "orange"-sounding music.

My point here is this: I don't recall Andrew Bird ever sounding as downright human as he does for the first run of the absolutely engaging five or six proper songs on this album.  He's shown hints of this sort of strength in the past, but it's never gelled as well as it does here.

Even on the pre-album teaser (the album's title track and clearly the one aimed at the radio) 'Eyeoneye', it's clear that this album just possesses an earnest polish and perfection that seems to say, "Hey, I think this one's pretty good — what d'you think?"

It claims a unique humble quality of realization of the world around it.  As if Andrew is saying to everyone, "Hey, what about that tree over there?"  Except, he just has a way of asking such a question that, when that particular tree is actually looked at, you see a wonderful, rainbow-filled skeleton of glowing, ramshackle beauty.

Allusions to "mistaking clouds as mountains" on 'Danse Caribe' atop easily one of his best melodies just seals the deal for me.  That song kicks butts and takes names.  Listen to his violin playing!  Don't care — it's one of his best songs; no discussion needed.  'Near Death Experience Experience' recalls Armchair Apocrypha, floating in hillbilly space, while a tune like 'Hole in the Ocean Floor' actually sounds like shoegaze gone acoustic.

It seems ridiculous to call this the album that Andrew Bird seemed destined to make all along, but here I am saying it and I can't really find another way to put it.  He has created his own little tiny universe of technology-inspired roots music that longingly looks towards the past while trying to ignore the present.  His music has never sounded as unique and as important as it does here.  His lyrics are full of self-referential near-jargon, but the vibe is never is lost on the listener; the sign of a true craftsman.

I was lucky enough, by the graces of a very dear and special person, to receive the limited edition of this album.  Artsy fartsy inclusions, heavy vinyl, gorgeous packaging and all — wonderful for a dork like me.
(probably can't see it there, but I got #606)

I can't say enough good about this album or Andrew Bird in general these days.  If he manages to improve (yet) again, I will be pleased.  But, as it stands, this may just be his most complete album to date.


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