Indie-Folk Gem Comes Together in Break it Yourself
- Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Artist: Andrew Bird
Album: Break it Yourself
Label: Mom + Pop
Folk music fans shouldn't shrug off Andrew Bird's Break it Yourself as simply a niche release from an obscure artist. The latest release from the Chicago multi-instrumentalist is an indie-folk gem that pushes Bird's previous boundaries as a solo artist to exciting new places, while maintaining the Midwestern, gee-whiz spirit that has endeared him to critics and fans alike.
Oddball indie folkster Sufjan Stevens is a helpful reference point as an introduction to Bird. While Bird's musings on life aren't nearly as self-consciously witty as Stevens' are, his unconventional approach, deft touch with eclectic instrumentation, and the raw beauty of his work is comparable, and equally memorable.
"Lusitania" features guest vocalist Annie Clark, better known as the artist Saint Vincent, for a dreamy back-and-forth vocal. Album opener "Desperation Breeds" moves from contemplative to aggressive, and "Give it Away" and "Orpheo Looks Back" are also highlights. "Eyeoneye" has a raw aggression comparable to indie-era R.E.M, and Bird's yearning tenor on the track is less an imitation of Michael Stipe as homage. Come to think of it, there's a lot of early R.E.M in Break it Yourself: the solid rhythmic backbone, less-is-more approach, and the intensity lurking under gorgeous vocals.
Although the folk stylings of Break it Yourself are memorable, it's Bird's guitar that's the glue holding the album together. He finds a way to make it speak in so many voices, each one tailored to the needs of the musical composition. Often, Bird plucks and strums the strings of his violin, achieving a trippy vibe that sometimes reminds of a ukulele. But there are also Asian tones, classical arrangements, and even a Southern fiddle technique, as on the remarkable "Danse Caribe."
Bird's less a songwriter in the traditional sense of the word as he is a composer. Many of the numbers on Break it Yourself defy conventional song structure guidelines, becoming multi-part pieces of music in multiple time signatures. They're not long, just complex. This is part of the album's appeal, given the right amount of time to sit with the songs. There's a sense of experimentation running through Break that's inspiring, but which belies a hard structure that allows Bird's considerable talent to shine through.
*This Review First Published 3/14/2012
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