“Mistaking clouds for mountains”…oh, have you ever experienced one line of a song going around and around in your head until either you become sick or your life molds itself to the lyrics? The latter occurred to me the other day. I wouldn’t have been able to describe how exactly Mr. Andrew Bird’s words “Danse Caribe” felt so perfect in the moment, I just know that I had this intuitive feeling that they were meant for me. In fact, the whole of the whistling-fiddling-glockenspieling songwriter’s latest album, Break It Yourself (March 6, 2012), is packed with feeling – little wisps and steamrolling blasts and punctuated pepperings of it. This glorious record, with beautifully characteristically Bird-esque style and lyrics, is not only Bird’s most accessible yet, it’s also his best.
Andrew Bird’s fifteen-year career has been a gradual branching out in styles, a development of a unique live show, and an accumulation of a dedicated fanbase (of which I’m proud to call myself a part). From his beginnings as a prodigy violinist from Chicago, Bird expanded to folk, jazz, and swing in several collaborative acts in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, and then embarked on an ever-innovative solo career. Break It Yourself is his sixth solo studio album and his first on the Mom+Pop label. He’s been busy since 2009’s critically-acclaimed Noble Beast, with projects including the Sonic Arboretum exhibit in Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and scoring the soundtrack to the 2011 film Norman.
Despite these engagements and a rigorous touring schedule, Bird found the time to write and record Break It Yourself in his converted barn on the family farm in rural Illinois where he lives. The album retains a lot of the rustic charm that comes from this setting and nestles its way into folksy fiddle parts and lyrics about bees. At the same time, it’s a bit more polished and produced than Bird’s previous work, with more band collaboration. Themes focus on the delicate balance of life –between youth and age, mundane and extraordinary, light and dark. By now, the thirty-eight-year-old Bird has finely honed the craft of songwriting, and yet he still finds ways to make his words and music sound fresh and novel.
Beginning with the ellipse-ridden “Desperation Breeds…” and ending with the soft fading out of “Belles,” Break It Yourself is a delightful progression of tunes that flow seamlessly into one another and yet maintain a richness of variety. As per Bird-usual, there are a few instrumental songs (“Polynation,” “Behind the Barn”) that showcase his phenomenal musicianship, while other tracks make his songwriting genius apparent. Standout songs include the adventure-inviting “Danse Caribe,” the beautiful duet with Annie Clark of St. Vincent on “Lusitania,” and the hauntingly sweet “Sifters.” “Near Death Experience Experience” is reminiscent of the powerful trifecta of pizzicato, percussion, and figurative language in earlier masterpieces like “Skin Is, My,” and the almost-Celtic flair of “Orpheo Looks Back” is downright catchy. I have a new favorite track every time I listen to the album, and I’ve done so enough times for each song to have held that title half a dozen times.
Because Break It Yourself is not something you listen to once. It’s a work of art that grows on you and reveals itself more and more to you every time you hear it. Andrew Bird has hit another home run – out past the outfield of gimmicky indie rock, somewhere into a soybean field of lush contemplation, evocative musicality, and buzzing bees.
–Hopey Fink, host of Eclectic Hour, 8-9AM Mondays on WGTB