Andrew Bird


I would go on about what I thought of Andrew Bird’s Noble Beast, and why I think his new album, Break It Yourself is a lot, lot better, but it’s more or less the crux of the entire review SO THAT WOULD BE STUPID. I wrote dis 4 For Folk’s Sake.

Andrew Bird has always flirted with the idea of making pop music. His often sprawling, always impressively constructed compositions have toyed with the boundaries between experimentation and melodic straightforwardness for years now, but his strength has always lain in being able to engage the listener but not compromise on his own sound. On Break It Yourself, his sixth solo album, he seems to have chosen to step off that line, and taken a side. This is as close to pop as Andrew Bird is ever likely to get, and he’s all the better for it.

Lead single, ‘Eyeoneye’ is the most extreme example, but a perfect one at that. A burst of Shins-indebted classic pop-rock, eminently catchy, distinctly punchier than we’re used to but still rooted in Birdsian traditions – the boundless vocabulary presented in his lyrics (“go ahead and re-ionise yourself”), structural ideas beyond the usual verse-chorus-middle eight and, of course, the life-threateningly brilliant whistling that’s become the hallmark of every Bird record. If you did come into this album with expectations based on the single alone, you’d find yourself deceived, but it’s certainly not a false indication of what’s contained in Break It Yourself.

The easiest way to think this record through is as a balloon, struggling to take off into airier, freer climes, but anchored by the weight of pop’s conventions. Opener ‘Desperation Breeds’ begins with a gently rolling guitar, which gives way to another Bird trademark, pizzicato violin, which then underpins violin sweeps, each growing in volume as the song continues. It’s a classic buildup, the sort of thing stadium rock bands use to pretend to be emotional, but deconstructed and placed within the confines of Bird’s style. ‘Orpheo Looks Back’ takes a different approach, harking back to Bird’s early affinity with British folk music, a running, tumbling fiddle part dominating most of the song but always returning to a central, whistle-accompanied refrain that acts as chorus. It’s breathless stuff, and perhaps the most vibrant and engaged a Bird song has sounded for years.

It’s that engagement that marks this album as different to its predecessors. When Bird gives up his usual lofty pronouncements to softly lament that “I can’t see the sense in us breaking up at all” amidst the gently thrumming soul of ‘Lazy Projector’, you can’t help but feel that this is a moment that’s imprinted itself on Bird himself, rather than the fanciful tales of “calcified arythmetists” and “proto-Sanskrit Minoans” from his last album. Similarly, the interplay with the recurring voice of St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, most notably on the accented dream-pop of ‘Lusitania’, doesn’t just give you the sense that Bird is making connections with other parts of the industry but, paradoxically, makes the songs more personal – that in hearing his conversation with others, we’re learning more about Bird than we ever have previously.

Of course, it can’t be all one way traffic, and by the final two tracks that metaphorical balloon is let loose to climb higher than we’ve seen it go before. ‘Hole In the Ocean Floor’ is an eight-minute windswept meander through expressionistic violin patterns and closer ‘Belles’ is a field recording-cum-ambient track that’s exactly as straightforward as that description makes it sound. It’s an odd way to end an album so steeped in recognisable styles, but perhaps a fitting one, an acknowledgement that what we’ve seen of Bird here is only telling part of the story, no matter how artfully it’s presented. Break It Yourself is just that, then, a well-considered presentation of Andrew Bird’s skill at mixing both his virtuoso talents and ear for melody, a perfect evolution for established fans and a welcome introduction for those interested in taking the plunge into a discography that could seem forbiddingly abstract at times. This is by no means the full picture, but it’s an incredibly appealing one, and certainly the best we’ve seen from him so far.


Andrew Bird – Eyeoneye

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Here are the last two weeks of Folk Bloke shows. Put aside two hours and ruminate on the dualistic nature of the world. One was recorded outside in the sun, the other inside as it rained. Binary systems, yeah?

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I got a new microphone and that is literally the least interesting thing about this week’s show. Everything else is better, and I think my new microphone is brilliant.

Rage Against The Machine – Microphone Fiend (YSI)

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Last week’s Folk Bloke, for all my moaning about a lack of good new tracks for me to play, actually had some really cool stuff on it. From CSLSX’s sampling of Mountain Man in what’s essentially an ’80s electronic track to Barna Howard’s spectacular Bob Dylan impression alongside new singles from First Aid Kit and Lambchop and old tracks from Andrew Bird and Kill It Kid, it was, basically, enjoyable. Click play above to experience said enjoyment.


CSLSX – Aeromancer feat. Mountain Man

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Buddy Holly – Listen To Me (YSI)

So it’s come to that dreaded time of year for every blogger – the end (or as I like to call it, Listomania, hur-hur). You’ve probably read several thousand ‘Best of 2009’ lists already, and mine will contain a lot of what everyone else has already agreed on I’m sure, but it seems important (or at least interesting) to me to really force myself to decide on my real favourite albums of the year, and make a distinct effort to see what moved me. I guess that’s why I like list posts so much, they may change, they may be based on a subjective (or worse, populist) view of the year’s albums, but the positions of albums, especially at the top levels, really interest me and I’ve already done my fair share of reading about why some have beaten others. So without further ado, here’s the first installment of my albums of the year.

15. Bombay Bicycle Club – I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose

I’d been looking forward to this record for a long time before its release. This prodigious bunch of Londoners had been charming me for over a year, constantly releasing little bits and pieces of the album, each one showing me another facet of their character as a band. When the album itself dropped I was initially a little disappointed actually, feeling that the individuality of each single was distilled by the album tracks. However, as the year went on, I would hear the album on people’s stereos all over the place and the cohesive nature of the record came through far better as background noise. For example, the expansive stomp of ‘Dust on the Ground’ may not seem to match the laidback groove of ‘Always Like This’, but they’re bridged by the beautiful ‘Ghost’ which marries the noisier guitar tone of the former with the more chilled-out feel of the latter. And it’s the same for the rest of the album – it’s a record that has somewhere to go with each track, well thought-out and beautifully realised. I can’t wait to hear more.

Bombay Bicycle Club – Evening/Morning (YSI)

14. Hockey – Mind Chaos

An album that starts with five straight tracks of effervescent, fresh, Strokes-meets-James Murphy brilliance like ‘Too Fake’, ‘3am Spanish’, ‘Learn To Lose’, ‘Work’ and ‘Song Away’ will always catch my eye. As an opening salvo, there’s not been much to rival it for sheer throat-grabbing pop magic this year, and whilst the rest of the album might not live up to this initial blast, it’s certainly never short of ideas. There are the hipster prerequisites of indie and dance all over the place, but look closer and you’ll hear flecks of country, soul, classic rock and even an entertaining, if slightly misguided, attempt at ironic hip-hop in ‘Wanna Be Black’. It can seem a bit tumultuous at times, but Ben Grubin’s hipster drawl is the through line that holds the whole affair together and makes this, if not a perfect album, at least a very good one.

Hockey – Learn To Lose (YSI)

13. Pull Tiger Tail – PAWS.

It’s a wonder that this album ever got released, not to mention that it would be such a joy to listen to. Pull Tiger Tail have been one of the saddest casualties of the music industry I’ve ever heard of, and being left legally unable to release an album you toiled over must be a horrible experience. However, with sheer determination and some seriously devoted fans, the band brought us a bouncing bomb of an album, never sitting still but hitting harder than you’d expect for indie-pop. The really excellent point of this album is just how far the band can stretch their own sound. For sheer, bubbling pop look no further than ‘Let’s Lightning’. If you want a catchy guitar anthem there’s ‘Animator’. For bubblegum-gloom balladry we have the (unsettlingly prophetic) ‘Loki’. That this album should have been released in 2007 and it still sounds this good in a completely different musical climate is testament to the band’s talent, and frankly the only real downside to the album is that we’ll never be hearing any more from them.

Pull Tiger Tail – Animator (YSI)

12. Andrew Bird – Noble Beast

I really don’t like the term freak folk, and to see it bandied about in relation to this album seems like something of a mis-step. This isn’t some freaky, psychedelic experience of an album, this is a slow-burning stream of well-considered, floating songs, full of intricate little touches and spooky, vibrato whistling. At first listen, it might seem as though Mr. Bird is just wandering around his songs, casually tossing new rhythms and tonal shifts into the mix for the hell of it, but it seems after a few listens that what he’s really doing is injecting each one with a new lease of life just as they might drag on. It’s also interesting for its content; his lyrics are sometimes unbelievably wordy, more so than almost anyone else I’ve ever heard (singing about ‘calcified arithmatists’ or ‘proto-Sanskrit Minoans’ has that effect) and his voice strays into beautiful Thom Yorke falsetto at times. This is not an album to listen to for catchy catharsis, but it certainly is lovely, and perfectly replicates the pastoral beauty of that front cover up there, letting you just wallow and waste time in it.

Andrew Bird – Effigy (YSI)

11. Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson

I should hate this man, considering he stole my idea for a really cool song sound and using it for his opening track. ‘Buriedfed’ is a dark folk lament that crescendos into a huge, beautiful Arcade Fire-style explosion of instrument noise, which I’d always wanted to do but, not being able to play an instrument, let alone a huge number of them at once, I’d had to put that idea on hold for a bit. I’ll let him off though, because this is hands-down one of my favourite songs of the year, and opens up an album full of fantastic, mournful songs. From ‘Woodfriend’s skewed take on a blues-rock stomper to shambling, drunken anthem that is ‘The Ongoing Debate Concerning Present vs Future’, it’s clear that ol’ four-names is one talented man. His wails permeate every song with a sense of the sadness he’s singing about – party music this is not, but it is unbelievably affecting; even when he’s upbeat it seems like Miles might just collapse in a heap at any moment and give up. It could easily have turned into a self-indulgent, “emotional” record, but as he whispers “Don’t care to eat, to drink makes me thirst/My second year here has been worse than the first” on closer ‘Boneindian’, it suddenly all becomes heartbreakingly true. And amazing.

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson – Buriedfed (YSI)

I read this on Condemned To Rock ‘n Roll and liked their answers so much I thought I’d try it myself.

List 10 musical artists (or bands) you like, in no specific order (do this before reading the questions below). Really, don’t read the questions below until you pick your ten artists!!!

1. Radiohead
2. Muse
3. Andrew Bird
4. The White Stripes
5. We Are Scientists
6. Future of the Left
7. Tom Williams & The Boat
8. Johnny Flynn
9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
10. Arcade Fire

What was the first song you ever heard by 6?

‘Manchasm’ – I’d heard a lot about how crazy the band were, but never expected to go on Youtube and find a band sounding like an evil B52s with lyrics about a sound engineer and a cat called Colin. I’ve loved them since.

What is your favorite song of 8?

‘The Wrote and the Writ’ – It’s one of the most perfect pairings of beautiful songwriting with poetry I’ve ever heard.

What kind of impact has 1 left on your life?

They changed my entire musical perspective, opening my eyes to things like intelligent rock to rampant experimentalism and a whole heap in between. I can only fault one of their albums (and let’s be honest Pablo Honey doesn’t really count, does it?) and I think they’re the best band in the world, ever.

What is your favorite lyric of 5?

They’re breaking both my hands
They’re breaking both my hands
And telling me to
Take it like a man
And take it like a man
Well fuck that.

There’s something simultaneously very angry and very vulnerable about that, somehow.

How many times have you seen 4 live?

None, although I’ve seen The Raconteurs once so does that count as ½?

What is your favorite song by 7?

‘Wouldn’t Women Be Sweet’. It’s a little different to their other tracks, a bit more of a downbeat folk track with some very odd lyrics and a beautiful lilt to it, it’s wonderful.

Is there any song by 3 that makes you sad?

I haven’t known of his work for long enough yet to have a real emotional connection to any of it, to be honest.

What is your favorite song by 9?

‘Maps’ – isn’t that everyone’s favourite?

When did you first get into 2?

I think I heard about Muse just before Absolution came out (Wikipedia tells me that’s 2003, making me 14) and went out and bought Showbiz and Origin of Symmetry and bloody loved both of them.

How did you get into 3?

Heard about him on Hype Machine, listened to ‘Tenuousness’ and that was that!

What is your favorite song by 4?

‘Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine’ – Just a raucous slice of guitar brilliance, and so visceral.

How many times have you seen 9 live?

Once, Reading Festival this year. It was brilliant, so brilliant in fact that Thom Yorke did an impromptu mini-cover of ‘Maps’ just before the final song later that night.

What is a good memory concerning 2?

Listening to Origin of Symmetry very loudly with my two best friends when we were all young and impressionable was somewhat wonderful. Seeing them at Wembley Arena wasn’t too bad either.

Is there a song by 8 that makes you sad?

Again, ‘Wrote and the Writ’. The lyrics are purposely slightly obscure, but there seems to be something tragic about the priest figure he mentions.

What is your favorite song by 1?

Frankly, that’s a little impossible to choose. ‘Just’, ’15 Step’, ‘2+2=5’ and ‘Paranoid Android’ all spring to mind, but I already know I’ve missed some.

How did you become a fan of 10?

Shamefully, ‘Funeral’ completely passed me by, and so it took Neon Bible’s amazing reviews to make me take notice, and once I’d heard that there was no going back.

Arcade Fire – Antichrist Television Blues (YSI)
Radiohead – Videotape (YSI) [That’s another favourite…]