March 7, 2012

Test Spins: Break It Yourself

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Clio Chang ’14 is won over by the singular architect of sound Andrew Bird

With Break It Yourself, Andrew Bird, who performed at Bailey Hall last spring, again demonstrates his prowess at being Andrew Bird. In other words, what sets this once obscure folk violinist apart from the rest is simply, well, everything. Bird’s music is always refreshing and original and his new album is proof that this architect of sound is still dreaming up innovative ways to captivate his audience.

The album kicks off with the track, “Desperation Breeds,” which strikes a happy balance between Bird’s experimental and mainstream styles. The track is slower than most of his other songs, but it features both the plucking and soothing voice for which Bird is famous. The lyrics are few and far between but one line that stands out is, “This peculiar incantation / I’m sure you’ve heard it before,” a line that ironically emphasizes the singularity of Bird’s style — in fact, you’ve probably never heard anything like it before.

Suzuki-trained from the age of four, Bird is known for both his unique creative outlook on music composition and traditional skill in the violin. All of this can be heard in Break It Yourself, an album that was far more experimental than his past work. You might say that throughout his new album, Andrew Bird has become more comfortable with being Bird-esque; he dedicates two whole instrumental tracks, “Polynation” and “Behind the Barn” to the violin. “Behind the Barn” is hauntingly beautiful, featuring a single melody on top of very few layers, by Bird’s standard. The song demonstrates his classical skill and faithfulness to effortless sound. Unsurprisingly, it stands out as one of his more captivating songs. The song “Hole in the Ocean Floor” also contains a long instrumental interlude, which ends up being a massive layering of string instruments. It gets to the point that the sound resembles that of an orchestra tuning before a concert. Once again, Bird is not afraid to let his strings speak for themselves, whether it is through a tightly executed track or a free unorganized composition.

Although he shies more and more away from the classic indie rock genre, the album is still full of upbeat songs with catchy melodies and beats. Many tracks still follow a more classic melodical and lyrical structure that are easier to listen to. The lead single “Eyeoneye” features a strong drum beat and the lyrical hook, “No one can break your heart / so you break it yourself.” This line is more straightforward than most of Bird’s stanzas, which often include neologisms, or made up words, contributing to his daydream-like inventive personality. For example, he uses words like “re-eyeoneyeze” and “pacifizers” which blend in seamlessly with the fantastical, free-flowing, creationist nature of his music. The song “Lustansia” which is a duet with St. Vincent, also follows a more structured lead and prominently features Bird’s famous haunting whistle. The back-and-forth vocals between male and female singers are not overdone or cheesy, as it so often is on other artists’ work. Instead, St. Vincent merges into Bird’s track as if she is merely another instrument he is layering on to the others.

Something that Andrew Bird lacks in his recorded albums is the vibrant improvised creativity found in his live music. Watching Bird live is a completely different experience than listening to him through headphones. During his live shows, Bird composes songs on the spot, or reworks the ones with which his audience is familiar. Through live looping, he layers sounds on stage, one track after another, from stringing and whistling melody to plucking beats, whether it is on a violin, guitar, or playing the violin like a guitar. Live, he is the definition of a one-man band. This effect is almost impossible to recreate, but on his new album, the track “Orpheo Looks Back” stands out as being one of the truest renditions of Bird’s live energy. There is no build up, as in his live performances, but the complex layering is very much the same.

The album closes with the song “Belles” perhaps so homophonically named because it prominently features the sound of wind chimes. The track itself is extremely laid back and with crickets chirping continuously in the background, we are reminded of the end of a summer’s day. Like the opening, which starts off as a lamentation of the imminent extinction of bees, the last track stays within the album’s theme. It leaves the listener with a sense of resigned calm, as if to say that all good things, including this album, must end.

Original Author: Clio Chang