Artist: Andrew Bird
Title: Break It Yourself
Record Label: Mom+Pop
American songwriter Andrew Bird has been playing music since age four, and now at the ripe old age of 38, he is releasing his seventh solo album – another project to add to his long list of ventures. Bird has featured on a wide range of albums including those by Final Fantasy and Bonny Prince Billy, his most recent contribution was to The Muppets: Original Soundtrack; Bird has dipped his toes in many musical waters over the years.
The self produced fourteen track album, Break It Yourself has a folky, dreamy feel to it. It was recorded to eight track at Bird’s barn in Western Illinois with a core group including drummer Martin Dosh, guitarist and keyboardist Jeremy Ylvisaker and Mike Lewis on tenor sax and bass. “It started out as a glorified rehearsal, the opposite of production, four musicians playing in a room together,” he says, it was a way to avoid sounding too contrived, “Too many records sound like a series of decisions, not a performance.”
Similar to Seth Lakeman, Andrew Bird draws on indie/folk influences and emphasizes the use of strings in his work, this is specifically so on Break It Yourself. “Desperation Breeds” sees lovely, high pitched and experimental strings dance over a steady harmony. “Danse Caribe” on the other hand is more of a celtic jig, the fun folk feel is added to with Bird’s whistling. And again in “Hole In The Ocean Floor” instruments (especially the strings) and whistling are used to great effect.
The other prominent success in this collection of songs is Bird’s songwriting and story-telling skills. In “Give It Away” he sings; “Did you give it away?” before the earnest chorus, “If you hide in the hay, would you hide in the hay with me?”. “Orpheo Looks Back” begins with soft guitar plucking combinations before violin takes the melody forward – it sounds like a folk tune to accompany Scottish country dancing, or a festive evening around a campfire. In the track “Sifters” three notes repeat before Bird uses the simile; “sound is a wave, like a wave on the ocean, and plays the ocean like a violin, pushing and pulling from shore to shore, biggest melody you never heard before, what if I were the night sky?”.
Meaning and narrative are revealed like in an old folk tales.
For some tracks on the album, Bird’s vocals are accompanied by a second, female voice – this adds to the unfolding of meaning in the songs. “Near Death Experience” begins with the plucking of strings and a xylophone, the melody lulls you into a sleepy haze before female backing vocals come in once more. “Lustiania” is dashed with more whistles, oohs, and a female takes lead part way through.
The album is weaved together well and in turn some of the tracks act as interesting introductions to the following track. “Polynation”, for example is only 45 seconds long and “Things Behind The Barn” is another instrumental interlude and just over a minute in length. Break It Yourself ends with another
instrumental, a quiet track entitled “Belles”, guitar and chimes bring the album to a close like a lullaby soothes a baby to sleep. Beautiful indeed.
Reviewed by Heather Welsh.