Release Date: Mar 6, 2012
Record label: Mom & Pop Music
Genre(s): Adult Alternative Pop/Rock
Andrew Bird's 2009 album Noble Beast felt like a career best, yet its follow-up is even better. Where Noble Beast examined the earth, Break It Yourself is an album of the sea, of shifting sands and surging waves, sparkling spray and soft, contemplative calm. You're constantly aware of the luxuriant spaciousness of the music, but particularly in the dramatic silences of Sifters, the relaxed pacing of Hole in the Ocean Floor and the slow tides of Lazy Projector.
Over a nearly 20-year career, Chicago singer, songwriter and violinist Andrew Bird has built a rep as one of indie rock's most beguiling light touches – a dude who makes Jeff Tweedy look like a Nordic death-metal pyro. Fusing elements of jazz, Celtic folk and chamber pop while softly talk-singing – or whistling – tunes with titles like "Scythian Empires," he might be gratingly pretentious, if he wasn't so unobtrusively amiable. But on his ninth album, Bird gets direct, even confrontational.
In my ideal world, Andrew Bird is what qualifies as pop music. He writes songs about love, they’re sweet, his voice is soft and he sounds like the sort of guy you could introduce to your grandparents. It’s not like his songs aren’t catchy because they are, give Give It Way (sadly not a folk cover of the Chili’s masterpiece) or Eyeoneye a go and you’ll be humming and singing for a day.
Andrew Bird’s latest fulfills two expectations for any album of his: it’s very much him (violins, whistling, soulful vocals and thoughtful turns of phrase) and it’s also not quite the same-old, same-old. On Break It Yourself, the production is stripped-down compared to Bird’s two most recent albums, reflecting Break It’s process of a live band recorded on 8-track. For as much as this collection of songs feels like a band getting together to jam for fun, Break It also feels like one of the more cohesive albums in Bird’s oeuvre; there’s a perfect placement of a few shorter instrumental tracks amongst the songs that ebb, flow, build and release in just the right way.
Andrew Bird’s Armchair Apocrypha and Noble Beast could be considered two spin-offs stemming from his most critically praised work, The Mysterious Production of Eggs. The former took after Eggs’ more bombastic numbers, like “Fake Palindromes,” and the latter after the more lilting and folk-based songs, like “Masterfade. ” Paired with Useless Creatures, the instrumental companion album to Noble Beast, and the recent soundtrack work for the indie film Norman, it comes as no surprise that Break It Yourself, Andrew Bird’s tenth album under his own name, has embraced the sprawl.
Last year, Andrew Bird contributed a cover of the Kermit the Frog classic “Bein’ Green” to a Muppets tribute album. Elsewhere, he partnered with sculptor and instrument maker Ian Schneller on a performance and installation involving speakers made from recycled newspapers and dryer lint. He follows the same definition of “quirky” that people use for Wes Anderson movies — his interests are idiosyncratic, to be sure, but somehow the definition feels too overreaching, like using Instagram and “hipster” in the same breath.
After a long string of lush, intricately plotted collections of classically minded indie pop, crafty violinist, minutia-loving songwriter and peerless whistler Andrew Bird offers up Break It Yourself, an intricately plotted collection of classically minded indie pop that eschews the meticulous studio refinement of Armchair Apocrypha and Noble Beast. Recorded mostly live at his studio barn in Western Illinois, Bird, drummer/percussionist Martin Dosh, and guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker have crafted a sunny, unpredictable set of tunes that reflects the pastoral Mississippi river valley that birthed them. Meandering and soulful, the album relies on the usual pizzicato loops, orchestral flourishes, and oddball subject matter that's preoccupied Bird since 2003's Weather Systems, but for the first time since his Bowl of Fire days, it feels less like a one-man band.
Drifting pleasantly through the US charts and branches of Starbucks, 2009's Noble Beast was a deserved commercial breakthrough for Andrew Bird – a record whose strangeness and complexity you could easily miss. Much the same is true of its successor. A deeper current of sadness runs through tracks such as "Desperation Breeds" and "Lazy Projector" and Bird's husky tenor is, at times, only incidental to the album's carefully assembled collages of sound – swirls of violin, acoustic guitar, gently brushed drums, his high, fluting whistle.
Andrew Bird has never been a man to settle for the easy option. In fact, the Illinois songsmith seems to have built a career of making even the most simple things obtuse. His admirable back catalogue is built around sweet melodies contorted into tongue-knotting, rhythmically avuncular sweeps that infuse Bird’s musical intellect with his knack for a non-conforming tunes.
Andrew BirdBreak It Yourself[Mom + Pop; 2012]By Ray Finlayson; March 6, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGAndrew Bird might have got his biggest break last year: a cameo in The Muppets film. But unlike Leslie Feist or Dave Grohl, Bird didn’t end up with a single shot cameo (or multiple shots if you’re Grohl), but instead was the whistling voice of main character/Muppet Walter, whose talent turns out to be a saving grace for Kermit and friends. And while the track – “The Whistling Caruso” – might draw in a good few more listeners to Bird’s music (especially since it’s rightfully credited to him and included on the film’s soundtrack), it’s hard to tell if it’ll create a whole host of new fans.
Lyricists write about the world we live in, and most of them choose a layer or two and stick with them. The human, religious, and geopolitical layers are the ones that get the most play in popular music, for obvious reasons. They're immediate to our everyday existence-- we're more likely to think about the role love plays in our day than the role of cell division.
What happens when an artist has more or less perfected the sound he’s built over a lifetime of music and performance? Do we demand a wild shift, something that puts him back at square one so we can witness another starry climb? Is disappointment appropriate when a new effort deviates little from the path? Case by case, the answers may vary. With Andrew Bird – a dependable creator of gorgeous, intricate music, a virtuosic violinist and intelligent lyricist – a record that walks the same roads is worthy of praise if for no other reason than that it’s a smooth, often beautiful road to walk. Break it Yourself is less unified than Armchair Apocrypha (a decidedly guitar-centric, pop rock album) but less whirling and scattered than Noble Beast.
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.
The first thing that struck me about Andrew Bird’s Break It Yourself was its utterly atrocious album cover. I knew I was potentially judging a good book by its not-so-good cover, but still, the whole pastel-type-atop-an-antique-photograph look struck me as amateurish and lazy. The busy, cramped aesthetic seemed more suited to a local college band and not an indie, baroque fiddler-whistler who, judging by both the songs and visuals of his previous albums, knows a thing or two about the beauty of minimalism.
Andrew Bird‘s musical voice is such that you’ll never mistake one of his albums for anyone else’s. From the pinpoint whistling to the epic violin swathes, there’s a surgical precision that can’t be matched and a uniquely heady, intellectual mindset to match it. Break It Yourself, Bird’s ninth solo disc, sounds, well, a lot like an archetype Andrew Bird record, which is to say that it has flashes of musical and lyrical depth that few can match.
When last we heard a proper record from Andrew Bird on 2008’s Noble Beast, he was in a strange place. Ever on the eccentric, clever edge of modern pop music, Bird sounded, well, normal, even settled. His heavily orchestrated songs all of a sudden felt too controlled, too tight and, as a result, lacked the snap of songs from Armchair Apocrypha or The Mysterious Production of Eggs.
Andrew Bird's great challenge has always been reconciling virtuosic violin eccentricities and oblique winding verses with the emotional resonance that is underneath, especially since the Chicago singer-songwriter approaches everything from a tangent. 2009's Noble Beast found a finer balance without diluting any classic Birdsian flourishes, but his sixth solo LP may be his best yet. "Danse Caribe" and "Eyeoneye" both serve as stunningly rich, rare singles – the former delicately swaying with a blend of Caribbean and Highlands rhythms against Bird's gypsy trill, and the latter showcasing an anthemic, blustering pop surge that cuts with new, at times almost Spoon-ish, verve.
The first time Andrew Bird’s music graced my ears, I had the good fortune to be outside. On a balmy summer evening in August of 2008, I was in attendance at Tanglewood – the western Massachusetts summer residence of the Boston Symphony Orchestra – meandering around the manicured lawns in preparation for a show being headlined by Wilco. Jeff Tweedy’s post-Uncle Tupelo band has never really sported the image of fiery rock and roll rebellion, but in a venue whose only steady guitar slinger is James Taylor, it felt at that time like I was gearing up for a Motorhead concert.
Even before he wrote the score for the 2011 indie film Norman, Andrew Bird always made cinematic music, combining the basic ingredients of spaghetti western soundtracks – violins, acoustic guitars, lots and lots of whistling –with something hipper, meatier, and more appropriate for the iPod generation. On Break It Yourself, his first solo album since 2009’s Noble Beast, he dishes up more baroque pop songs with brainy, tongue-twister lyrics. Bird still sounds like he’s making songs for movies, whether real or imaginary, but he’s no longer a tight-fisted director, and Break It Yourself boasts the most collaborative backup band – an ensemble cast, if you will – of his solo career.