Andrew Bird is a distinctive artist whose baroque, folky pop music has set him apart from most American indie fodder of the last ten years. His use of slightly leftfield instrumentation that occasionally borders on the twee puts him in the same category as violin-wielding Canadian musician Owen Pallett, and there are many similarities between the two artists on Bird’s beautiful new album Break It Yourself, which features all manner of otherwordly sounds and textures. Whilst Pallett is constantly collaboration with huge acts like Arcade Fire and Fucked Up, Bird has worked tirelessly on his own music, which is much more soft, catchy and easily penetrable than Pallett’s occasionally obtuse and abstract take on pop music.
Although it does feature brief, violin heavy instrumental interludes like ‘Polynation’ and ‘Things Behind The Barn’, Break It Yourself is largely a traditional album with it’s roots in beautiful, old fashioned folk music. Often Bird becomes bored with easy-to-swallow songwriting and throws in strange digressions and passages of surreal, unusual musical experiments before returning to the pop song format. On most albums that would simply feel like an unnecessary exploration into the unknown when simply a real ‘song’ would suffice, but somehow Bird makes it work, and the album is simply constantly surprising and exciting.
Break It Yourself, like most of Bird’s albums feature genuine, lovable pop songs like the energetic, guitar based ‘Eyeoneye’ and the clattering, very pretty, if extremely odd ‘Near Death Experience Experience’.
Bird has become a father and settled down since his last album, and although initially it appears that he has not allowed this to mellow or tone down his music, the album is much more lyrically heartfelt, and his showy, genuinely bizarre lyrics have become more tame, a little less abstract, and little more specific and therefore powerful and relatable. Thankfully it’s not all simple heartfelt lyrics; He still finds space for lines such as “Accidental pollination in this era without bees”.
The album appears to thematically travel from song to song, meaning it makes a whole lot more sense as an all consuming entirety. Whereas the first couple of tracks are obtuse, shimmering and textual, the last couple of tracks are sorrowful, vulnerable and simple, making the album an emotional journey. In a day and age in which the album, as a format, is increasingly less relevant, this marks Bird out as an artist, like Pallett, who is unafraid to explore overarching themes and narratives without unfairly being labelled as pretentious.
Break It Yourself is an incredibly varied album, featuring both some of Bird’s oddest compositions, as well as genuinely striking, beautiful folk songs, such as the percussive ‘Lusitania’, a real standout track. The track that personally stood out and affected me with every listen however, is ‘Fatal Shore’, one of the simplest songs in the album. It simply relies on it’s beautiful melody, some skeletal, interlocking guitar parts and a simple beat. It is over this uncrowded background that Bird’s new found emotional simplicity shines through as he sings “When are you coming to shore, to never fear anymore?”
The album concludes with ‘Belles’, an instrumental, almost ambient track featuring chiming bells (geddit?) and swelling strings. It is a simple, understated way to end a varied, emotional, beautiful album which will hopefully come to be celebrated on the inevitable “Best of 2012” lists.
Released on 5th March 2012 by Bella Union