Break It Yourself
Mom + Pop
Mar 05, 2012 Web Exclusive
Welcome to Andrew Bird's nineth solo outing—an album of surprisingly unfussy folk compositions augmented with his trademark layers of violins, slurred vocals, and multi-octave whistling. Recovering from emotional and physical exhaustion, Bird took to his family's barn, laying down entire songs in a single take, friends filling in on whatever instrument the multi-tasking musician couldn't play himself. As a result, Break It Yourself often plays like being front row at the world's most engaging hootenanny.
Chilled out? Yes, but don't mistake that for not giving a damn. Here, Bird has returned to his roots as a classically trained musician who wandered into rock. Doubts he's phoning it in are quickly laid to rest by "Behind the Barn," a track that makes up what it lacks in length with a violen solo so shredding it stops just short of flying-v status. "Orpheo Look Back" takes a more relaxed bent, its intense layers of string playing like the Suzuki method's answer to "jam band."
Unlike previous efforts, which have seen Bird obscure meaning with questionable use of Scrabble-worthy vocabulary, Break It Yourself finds the Chicago-based artist writing some of his most straightforward lyrics. "Sifters" imagines the bittersweet tale of a May/December romance. On the other side of the emotional spectrum, Bird's dark humor shows through on "Near Death Experience," where he details life flashing before his eyes, promising, "We'll dance like cancer survivors/grateful to be alive." The same thinly veiled snark saves meandering tune "Lusitania," where, hovering on cliché, the sinking of the infamous ship is compared to heartbreak, Bird adding, "Somehow it don't register as pain." He still suffers from a compulsive need to carpet his songs with excessive meaning ("Eyeoneye," features a doctorate's worth of symbolism), but no longer hell-bent on trying to demonstrate he's the smartest man in the room, Bird has once again proven he may just be the cleverest. (www.andrewbird.net)
Author rating: 7/10
Average reader rating: 8/10