Review: Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself
Published on March 31st, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
“Beekeeper, sing of your frustration / In this litigious breeze / Of accidental pollination / In this era without bees”; as you can see, Andrew Bird wastes no time in establishing a pastoral setting and loading it with apocalyptic imagery, a dynamic which can be so affecting in the right hands. And it is, because they are, if you will.
Opener “Desperation Breeds…”, proud owner of the afore-quoted lyrics, lulls us into the gentle yet fiery-bellied psych-folk wonderland that is Bird’s sixth solo album, before unveiling a thoughtful and lusciously textured mix that makes various stopoffs at chirruping electronic crickets, fluttery strings and a synth freakout that should feel desperately out of place, yet somehow manages to be seamlessly integrated. Mind you, when the mix pares down in the third verse to reveal a muddy guitar being strummed in a vaguely reggae fashion, you might start to believe that Mr Bird could chuck a dubstep bassline in there without so much as waking an infant.
The delights, both musical and lyrical, just keep on coming. “Give It Away” is somewhat different to the Red Hot Chili Peppers song of the same name, being as it is pure shuffly loveliness that wrong-foots the listener by way of a cunning tempo regression, all held aloft by an authoritative bassline that for some reason I feel inclined to describe as “inquisitively plinky” (glean from that what you will). All the while, so breezily and meditatively delivered are lines like “Assured asphyxiation / Where the foxes and field mice make their dens / Death by association / I swore I’d never take anyone there again / To this nation / A nation under your command” that their significance might just pass you by entirely. All the more reason to listen again.
“Lazy Projector”, with its ghostly saw-like noises, is so pretty and sophisticated that you can almost imagine it sipping a brandy and shaking its head ruefully at the state of our planet, while the pledge within “Near Death Experience Experience” to “dance like cancer survivors” makes for a memorable if rather peculiar refrain. The prevailing mood is still one of intensely burning psychedelic campfire music, but it’s so satisfyingly involving that it extrapolates very nicely indeed into an album.
Bird’s weathered yet understated vocal delivery never outstays its welcome, and it’s joined on “Lusitania” by a distinctly country-sounding Annie Clark of St. Vincent fame, their voices in tandem creating one of the album’s highlights in the form of a plaintive, Sufjan Stevens-like ‘ooooh’. Oh yes, and Bird’s otherworldly whistle is of course scattered sporadically across the record, like a beautiful, uh, bird getting let out of its cage for a quick fly about the room.
Elsewhere, “Sifters” is a bucolically sparse ode to serendipity, “Hole in the Ocean Floor” warms and washes over you like an eight-minute shaft of light on the back of your neck, its lyrics reading like a poem (“I woke with a start / Crying bullets, beating heart / To hear all God’s creatures / Roaring again”); and finally, the album floats gently off to sleep on the twinkly, almost lullaby-ish “Belles”, this time featuring samples of what sounds like actual cricket chirrups rather than digital recreation on “Desperation Breeds…”.
At just over an hour long, Break It Yourself is not diverse enough of mood to sustain the interest levels every single time, but if you’re looking for a soothing yet poignant soundtrack to immerse yourself in, then…(nudges copy of Break It Yourself towards your side of the table).
Rocksucker says: Eight-and-a-Half Quails out of Ten!