What separates an album of genre-fusing ambitions (Dear Science
by TV on the Radio) from a characterless jumble of sound (Pink Floyd's The Division Bell
)? TV on the Radio may incorporate everything from funk to post-punk to garage rock to soul to hip-hop to electronica, but when you listen to Dear Science
or Return to Cookie Mountain
, you know you're listening to music that only Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone could come up with. Chicago baroque pop artist Andrew Bird
never ventures into characterless territory as his classically trained musicianship and meticulous ear for detail always shines, but on his latest record, Break It Yourself
he spends (thankfully rare) moments straddling the line between a genuinely novel combination of rootsy folk/baroque pop that even non-folk fans could appreciate and potentially alienating flights of fancies and whimsy that may turn off some listeners.
A classically trained violinist with a degree in violin performance from Northwestern, Andrew Bird's craftmanship on a large scale is impressive. With only three exceptions, he crafts a cavalcade of emotional and uplifting strings. Whether it's "Breeding Desperation," "Orpheo Looks Back," or "Danse Caribe," Bird is always in total control of his desire to pair world folk music with the current baroque pop trends (that helped to create in the first place), and it works. With whistles, a violin, guitars, and even a glockenspiel, his compositions are mostly detailed and often dizzyingly dynamic. Taking his cue from classical orchestral composers, the songs on the album on both a micro and macro level segue together to form a true suite of music with a rise and fall structure from beginning to end. On the eight minute penultimate track, "Hole in the Ocean Floor," Bird is able to channel the best of his classical and modern influences into the album's shining opus.
"Near Death Experience Experience," "Sifters," and "Fatal Shore" don't jibe with the rest of the album-- they seem sparse and simplistic compared to some of the other sweeping movements present on the album. Bird's music works best when it an ever-shifting soundscape of almost literary ambitions washes over his listeners and on tracks where simple melodies and vague lyrics are the totality of the experience, it is easy to yearn for a grander Andrew Bird experience.
While Andrew Bird's skills as a composer are virtually without dispute, his lyricism has the potential to be the most polarizing aspect of the album. On tracks like "Orpheo Looks Back," and "Lazy Projector," Bird is able to find his lyrical sweetspot as he transverses the border between the pastoral, the metaphysical, and the emotional all while staying within the realm of comprehensible. However, the album is full of moments where Andrew Bird veers into the realm of obscure and esoteric. There's certainly a pleasure to be gained from his voice and the way the words flow together in their own mystical, ethereal way, but if you need for lyricism to actually mean anything concrete, you may find yourself frustrated by Bird's deliberate obliqueness.
"Eyeoneye" has been the standout single for weeks now, but we recommend that you take "Orpheo Looks Back" and "Hole in the Ocean Floor" for a spin because they are the distillation of everything great about Andrew Bird without his more divisive indulgences. Break It Yourself
may end up slightly uneven, but Andrew Bird's soaring strings and whistles should satisfy your desires for all things baroque.