March 31, 2005

Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire: Mysterious Production of Eggs

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After countless albums falling just short of success, Andrew Bird has created his masterpiece with Mysterious Production of Eggs. A wildly eclectic thrill ride that effortlessly juxtaposes the past four centuries of music into one genre-defying otherworldly whole, Mysterious Production of Eggs finds a way to be both childishly fun and deeply profound.

Bird is a fine example of the twists and turns that a musician’s career can take before reaching that final destination where one finds his or her own muse. A classically-trained violinist, Bird’s biggest successes up to this point came as being a member of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, the retro swing band from the late ’90s that scored an unexpected hit with “Hell”. Like the rest of their work, “Hell” was a calculated attempt at irony and novelty, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers were dismissed by many as just another example of dispensable Zoot Suit Rioters after the inevitable swing-revival backlash began (Remember the “Jump Jive an’ Wail” Gap commercial? Remember how much you enjoyed loathing it?). Bird then went on to create relatively impressive solo albums, but even these suffered from his persistent emulation of those old daddy-os he admired so much.

On Mysterious Production of Eggs, Bird has not only found his own unique sound, but has produced his own hallucinatory world where it is not uncommon for spooky slinky sounds and heavenly arias to coexist on the same song. A lot of the album explores the world John Lennon introduced with “I Am the Walrus,” even venturing into Brer Rabbit and James Dean territory. Bird’s sound is like a cross between Ron Sexsmith, Radiohead and Mozart, but any attempt to fully describe his presentation inevitably misses his ineffable qualities. In fact, some album songs have squiggly lines for titles instead of actual names. Perhaps even Bird himself had trouble describing his creations, or perhaps he was just being pretentious.

The album begins with an aria that reaches notes most listeners probably never even knew existed. A few explorations in sound later and the album reaches “Banking on a Myth,” with an oriental backdrop and beautifully sleazy pulp fiction guitar melody. Like many moments of the album, the song repeats an evocative hook that is perfect in its imperfections. Similar to the indelible guitar hook repeated before the main chorus in David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” the one in Bird’s song shoots out just enough fragments to allow the listener to combine the seeming non-sequiturs into a haunting whole. What may seem like reckless, spontaneous songwriting would actually require the utmost perfectionism, and Bird is certainly a perfectionist. Repeated listens of the well-crafted album bring out new musical treats, such as on “Skin Is, My,” where Bird discusses a place “where the air is tight” and then so fleetingly and subtly explodes on the drums to elucidate on just how tight that air really is. On Mysterious Production of Eggs, Bird creates his own hallucinatory world where everything is new and fun and surprising. I’ll jump and jive to that.

Archived article by Jared Wolfe
Sun Staff Writer