Andrew Bird’s New Album More Lullaby Than Wake-Up Music

Julia Hubay, Staff Writer

The newest album from Andrew Bird, Break It Yourself, was released this past week on Tuesday, March 6. As a lover of Bird’s earlier work, with its beautiful instrumentation and playfulness with words, I was anxiously anticipating its arrival.

As I began to listen to the first few tracks of the album, I found myself underwhelmed. The Bird that I knew and loved was constantly going somewhere slightly different with his music, drawing influences from jazz, bluegrass and classical sounds. I expected this album to go in a new direction, while still being unmistakably Bird, full of whistling and witty lyrics. Unfortunately I had difficulty finding an evolution in the sound.

Unwilling to give up on an artist I admired so much, I listened to the album repeatedly, struggling to find the artistic vision that he was exploring with Break It Yourself. As it turns out, the album is one that needs to be listened to repeatedly: Its beauty is slowly revealed with each successive experience of the subtle songwriting.

The album begins with a twangy and lilting song, “Desperation Breeds,” which has a distinct nostalgic feel. It starts with muffled, distant vocals, and the whole song sounds like a slippery memory that you are trying to hold onto, beautiful but transient. This understated song is an appropriate introduction to the rest of the album, which at times sounds like a soundtrack of memories, complete with sounds of a cooing baby and the summery drone of crickets.

Overall, the mood of the album is much more subdued than that of Bird’s previous albums. The sharp wit and speedy references to his past work are missing from the lyrics of this album. The lines of most of the songs are rather straightforward, and the metaphors are much less evocative than those in his previous songwriting.

The subjects of the songs on *Break It Yourself * are still beautiful, but a bit less unique. On “Near Death Experience,” Bird sings, “We’ll dance like cancer survivors, like we’re grateful simply to be alive.” A powerful sentiment, but one that has certainly been heard before, and Bird doesn’t really add anything new to the idea on this track. The listener is left feeling unsatisfied. Where is Bird’s poetry?

Break It Yourself is a more meditative album for Bird when compared to The Mysterious Production of Eggs or Noble Beast. The sound of the songs is cohesive, exploring slower, subdued melodies and subjects that are widely relatable. However, some of Bird’s charm is lost with this transition to more immediately recognizable subjects; his ability to pinpoint a peculiar experience and convey it in a way that is charmingly funny without undermining its seriousness is truly unique.

In spite of the shortcomings of the album, it is exquisitely beautiful. If you listen to it expecting to be challenged with references to diverse fields of knowledge and innovations in songwriting, you may be disappointed. This is not a peppy album; it requires intense focus and cannot be fully appreciated if listened to in a cursory way.

The music does demonstrate some evolution in Bird’s style, showing Celtic influences in the fiddle on tracks like “Danse Caribe” and “Orpheo Looks Back.” Perhaps the album is not as catchy at first because it is much more focused on the shifting of musical lines than the clever words, for which Bird is well-known. But intense listening to the complicated instrumentation on tracks like “Lazy Projector” and “Sifters” reminds the listener of Bird’s talent and vision.

Break It Yourself concludes with two tracks of exquisite beauty. Over eight minutes long, and largely instrumental, “Hole in the Ocean” is a haunting song that overwhelms with the emotion of the music. Similarly, “Belles” picks up some of the threads from the rest of the album like repetition of lines and meditation on quiet sounds before fading away in a soothing lullaby. Don’t listen to Break It Yourself when you are sleepy, because its subtle beauty deserves and requires your full attention.