Broken hearts fuel passionate music. With his latest release, Break it Yourself, Andrew Bird proves that a break-up can inspire an incredible songwriter to work at an increased level.
Bird’s previous releases dealt in observations regarding our natural surroundings, science and human behavior. His 2003 release, Weather Systems, dealt in this theme throughout the album.
“And every time you turn the soil, another cloud begins to boil,” from the title track of Weather Systems shows the power man has on the environment.
Sidenote: Righteous Babe Records, owned and operated by Ani DiFranco in Buffalo, NY, released Weather Systems.
With his previous five studio albums, Bird has defined a genre known as chamber pop. His music takes motifs from pop music and combines them with chamber instruments like the violin and mandolin. The instruments ring with the sounds of Mozart and Tchaikovsky, proving they have been handled by a classically trained expert.
Since his 2009 release Noble Beast, Bird has made many changes. He left Fat Possum records and signed with Mom+pop Records. He started writing film scores, releasing a soundtrack for the film Norman. He played a 165-date tour in 2009 all the while in heartache from a relationship change. He suffered a heel injury on tour and dug himself deep into his work.
“I think he just ran himself ragged,” said Bird’s bassist Mark Lewis in an interview with Rolling Stone. “Being out and busy can be a false escape,” added Lewis.
Bird left the tour, wounded both in body and spirit, and began to write.
In his reclusive attempt to recover, Bird wrote 14 songs that flow together masterfully.
The album starts with the track “Desperation Breeds,” a fitting opener for an album that arose from despair. Bird layered multiple instrumental tracks, recording the individual tracks himself. The violin instrumental shows Bird’s expertise with use of trills and legato to amplify the solo’s meaning.
Danse Carribe demonstrates musical expertise as well as Bird’s utility. With a country feel, the track starts off with a sultry, relaxing feel. The chorus shows passion as Bird emphatically belts out, “There you go mistaking clouds for mountains.”
At the two minute mark, the song turns up-tempo as Bird uses another expertly wielded instrument, whistling. Each whistle has perfect pitch and vibrations, giving the high-pitch noise a voice. Immediately following the whistle solo, Bird plays a fiddle-style solo that slowly evolves into a sophisticated into a baroque-sounding classical melody.
“Give it Away” follows, starting with an intro similar to the folk-rock band My Morning Jacket. Instead of guitar though, the intro is a plucked and electrified violin. The rest of the song flows naturally with a swinging beat that emphasizes Bird’s beautiful vocal melody.
The next track, “Eyeoneye,” has the most single potential. It starts with another MMJ-style intro, only this time from a fuzzy guitar with intense reverb. The song ripples from the simple drum rhythm and staccato strumming of the guitar. The tempo picks up, making the song upbeat near the end. All of this matches the profound lyrics.
“All this time it took to realize that you could use some help,” sang Bird right before the final chorus.
“Lazy Projector” follows with its slow beat and emotional music. Minor inflictions on voice and instruments start the song off with a sad feel. Whistling and violin trade back and forth, showing melodies that inspire hope, emotion and beauty.
“They say all good things must come to an end, every day the night must fall. How it all came to this I simply can’t recall. Too many cooks in the kitchen; how the mighty must fall and I can’t see the sense in us breaking up at all,” sang Bird. These sad lyrics help tell the story of Bird’s emotions as he wrote.
Bird played a version this song on his 2009 tour, starting a few days after his relationship change.
“Near Death Experience Experience” follows with a quirky, sliding melody. The song finishes the middle section of the album.
The next section begins with an instrumental track entitled “Things Behind the Barn.” Bird’s violin sings in this song with fast-paced fingerings, creating a repeating melody that demonstrates his alacrity.
“Lusitania” comes immediately after the instrumental. This song, a duet with Annie Clark of the band St. Vincent, sound gorgeous with the combination of Bird’s whistling and 1960’s-folk-sounding vocals. Cymbal splashes add a brilliant texture to the mix, sounding like waves crashing on the hull of a metal ship. Clark adds a verse and harmonies that rival Bird’s musical beauty.
The song screams proficiency. The lyrics have great impact as well, singing about love and blame through the metaphor of the 1914 tragedy.
“If you loosen libel lips you keep sinking all my ships. Oh and you’re the one who sank my Lusitania.”
The next song, “Orpheo Looks Back,” has incredibly played fiddle parts with a scratchy sounding beat in the background of the folk-country style track. Bird sings a melody similar to Irish folk musician Damien Rice, completing the song with an Irish-jig-like solo violin solo to end the song.
The album comes to conclusion with three long songs, highlighted by the eight-minute-long “Hole in the Ocean Floor,” and culminates with a 2:30 instrumental Belles. The song describes Bird’s feelings without saying a word. Space fills this serene song, making the listener close their eyes and wander through thought.
“Belles” slowly brings the album to an end, finishing the 14-track LP and leaving listeners wanting more.
Out of all his albums, Break it Yourself shows more passion, expertise and musical prowess than his others. You can tell in his music he has become more experienced. With experience comes skill and inspiration.
I don’t believe Andrew Bird could top this album in quality and meaning. This album should go down in history as his masterpiece.