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

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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?

So I was actually coming here to post about something completely different and amazing, but THAT CAN WAIT.

I’ve been getting gradually more and more excited about the upcoming Father John Misty record – J. Tillman’s first solo album after leaving Fleet Foxes – based solely on the fact that I can’t stop listening to ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetry Blues’, so to find an album track secreted away on a seemingly unconnected Soundcloud account has confused and excited me. ‘This Is Sally Hatchet’ begins as what sounds like some spindly blues-pop but ends with a beating, dramatic riff that sounds straight outta ‘Kashmir’ (mash-up artists, HO!). How it gets from one to the other is an exhilerating journey of husky barroom choruses, creepy atonality and a life story seized up with the dust of Americana. It’s wonderful, evocative stuff that’s only spurred me further towards the Misty bandwagon.


Father John Misty – This Is Sally Hatchet

This has taken far too long and, as such, I won’t bugger on about it for too long. Sufficed to say, Barna Howard’s self-titled debut album came out, it’s brilliant, you should buy it. Every review I’ve seen so far has compared him to a different revered folk guiter-pickster, which can only be a good thing – I’ll be sticking with my strident Dylan comparison for now, but if you remind every listener of someone else amazing, you’re doing something very, very well.

The album itself delivers on the first single’s promise; a collection of sparsely recorded, maudlin tales that manage that difficult line between the personal and the universal. Reminiscences on fading careers, lost family and heartbreak that are easy to relate to, but difficult to dissociate from the singer. It’s an odd thing, really, because after an album of songs that could so easily be described in exactly the same way (nasally-voiced man with guitar sings sad song), there’s not a moment of the repetition I feel in far more dynamic bands’ albums. There’s something innately special in someone confident enough to put out an album like this and to pull it off so spectacularly.

Unfortunately, there’s no embedding available for anything other than the first single, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it is. Get this listened to immediately.

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I felt like death during this show so I filled full of music that meant I didn’t have to talk. Luckily, that meant Meursault got a double bill and lots of big, long songs got some nice airing out. Depending on whether you’re me or not, that could be a good thing.

Photo courtesy of Julia Gillard

Spring has come early where I am. Blue skies, long afternoon shadows, the sound of builders listening to terrible commercial radio and singing along to Pet Shop Boys hits – it’s all there. Perhaps that’s why I’m gravitating to the kind of lazily melodic music I tend to love in sunnier periods, including Sean Bones’ newly-released track ‘Hit Me Up’.

The B-side to his new single, ‘Here Now’, it’s a beautifully laconic mix of bubbling Flaming Lips synths, vocals ripped from the (pretty boring) confines of the “chillwave movement” and jangly, indie guitars slowed right down to a pace more reminiscent of the kind of music reggae artists might make if I ever bothered to listen to that genre. Basically, it’s slow, it’s happy and it’s wonderful. Judging by the more familiar indie-pop of the A-side, we might not hear much more of this from Mr. Bones (who would make for a terrific porn character, by the way) so let’s savour what we’ve got – this is hazy summer music of the very best kind.


Sean Bones – Hit Me Up

PS. As I was about to post this, I found out that Mr. Bones (haha (hahaha)) released a nice, pitch-damaged, lo-fi folk track last year, so have a listen to that too:


Sean Bones – One For The Grubs

So, stadium rock. It’s shit right? The thing is, when you intentionally try to make your sound more emotional, more powerful and generally overwhelming, it often just muffles the actual emotional voice at the centre of it all. I love desperately sad folk songs because you can hear someone’s voice crack, you can hear the sound of their fingers moving along strings – stadium rock offers none of that intimacy. Sure, the sound of someone singing loudly over a lilting piano line can be emotional too, but so can chopping off a finger, and I don’t do that unless I upset my Yakuza bosses (fingers cross- oh).

Which is why I’m impressed with Exitmusic’s ‘Passage’. This Brooklyn two-piece are making stadium rock that sounds genuinely emotional, but without making any huge changes to the formula. The huge crescendo is there, the lingering reverb, ringing guitars, all of that, but with the addition of some esoteric electronic work and some wonderfully quavering vocals yelping away for most of the song, they’ve somehow wrung every drop of cynical, swaying crowd bollocks out of this cloying genre and made it seem distinctly fresh. This isn’t music to sing along to, it’s to be sung at you, and loudly at that. I don’t know whether this’ll make me a stadium rock convert any time soon, but it’s seriously interesting stuff.


Exitmusic – Passage