Review: Andrew Bird – Break it Yourself
Fine! I WILL break it myself!
|Album||Break it Yourself|
|Label||Mom & Pop Music|
I still vividly remember the day I discovered Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs. “I’ve never heard anything like this before,” I said to a friend as I studied the album artwork and began dissecting the aural layers and rhythms in my head. And while some tunes in Bird’s impressive discography may at times sound similar, there’s no denying that he has a style all his own and possesses a huge amount of talent and finesse.
His latest full-length effort, Break it Yourself, just released a couple days ago; my girlfriend was good enough to get us tickets to his upcoming show at the Fox Theater in April, and as an added bonus, we both received free digital copies of Break it Yourself and some live recordings. Not a bad deal. I loves me some Andrew Bird, and while waiting for Break it Yourself to release I listened to the Norman OST, composed almost entirely by Bird, quite a bit. It’s rough around the edges and comprised more of brief ideas than full-fledged songs, with the exception of two or three tracks, and I liked that; I felt like I was stealing a look at songs to come, and now that Break it Yourself has graced my ears, I realize I was, for the most part, correct. While Break it Yourself has plenty of original ideas, a few of its songs are based almost entirely on ones from the Norman OST, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — Bird has similarly sort of rehashed tracks before, like ‘Skin Is, My’, from the Mysterious Production of Eggs (based on ‘Skin’ off of Weather Systems), and ‘Imitosis’, from Armchair Apocrypha (based in ‘I’, also off of Weather Systems). So it’s nothing new, and honestly, I like the elaborated-upon versions better than the originals. But because of this, Break it Yourself had a diminished first impression on me; I felt as if I’d heard some of the songs before (and, essentially, I had).
Here’s a quick breakdown of the album:
- Desperation Breeds (5:30) – Based on ‘The Kiss / Time And Space/Waterfall’ from the Norman OST, it begins very gently and becomes a bright, mellow groove carried by Bird’s violin expertise without being too loop-heavy.
- Polynation (0:45) – An airy segue with some odd sound effects at the end. Not exactly sure what it’s doing on the album.
- Danse Caribe (5:19) – Driven by a kind of upbeat 6/8 time signature, this one brings me back to the Swimming Hour days. It has a very rustic feel, and I can imagine the second half of the song being played at an old pub or something (or a group of Hobbits dancing to it around The Shire).
- Give it Away (4:31) – Weaves between a slightly discordant looped riff and a steady verse with some nice vocal harmonizing. The rhythm is different between these parts, though, and the transition is jarring. Sorry, this one doesn’t work for me.
- Eyeoneye (4:07) – Here’s where Bird brings his electric guitar to the forefront and delivers some seriously catchy hooks. This will probably be the first single from the record. It has a similar feel to ‘Fiery Crash’ from Armchair Apocrypha and ‘Fitz and the Dizzyspells’ from Noble Beast.
- Lazy Projector (4:59) – One of my favorites from the album. It’s slow, deliberate, and moody, led by Bird’s vocals and whistles. Oddly enough, reminds me of his rendition of The Handsome Family’s ‘The Giant of Illinois’ that he performed during his Daytrotter Session.
- Near Death Experience Experience (4:29) – A really cool groove met with some great major-to-minor chord progressions. Reminds me of ‘Masterswarm’ from Noble Beast, but a bit slower I guess, with a tinge of ‘Skin Is, My’ from Mysterious Production of Eggs.
- Behind the Barn (1:04) – A short, atmospheric, minor-key, violin-heavy interlude. It has a great moodiness to it; too bad it wasn’t developed into a full track.
- Lusitania (4:04) – Based on ‘Arcs And Coulombs’ from the Norman OST, slowed-down a bit with some extra reverb and texture. It’s refreshing to hear a second vocalist come in halfway through the song, but the more I listen to it, the more I wish Bird had sung the whole thing.
- Orpheo Looks Back (4:56) – An upbeat, energetic rhythm met with heavily-layered violin tracks, and I don’t think there’s any actual percussion in this song; it’s all strumming and, near the end, an airy vocalized imitation of a shaker. Reminds me a little bit of ‘Anonanimal’ from Noble Beast at certain parts, but altogether isn’t nearly as awesome.
- Sifters (4:13) – Based on ‘Night Sky’ from the Norman OST. The feel is generally the same, very subdued and vocal-driven, but to me it feels like Bird just improvised certain parts of ‘Night Sky’, recorded it, and slapped a new title on it.
- Fatal Shore (5:06) – A slow, understated, sparse song with drifting effects and guitar licks. Not totally memorable for me, but not terrible either.
- Hole in the Ocean Floor (8:18) – Bird really lets his imagination fly with this one, employing a lot of techniques and textures found on Useless Creatures. A lot of it feels improvised, but in a good way. The last two minutes or so are especially great, particularly the delicate and occasionally squeaky lead violin track.
- Belles (3:00) – Another airy, effects-heavy instrumental piece, complete with a cricket chirping track. It’s a great way to end the album; it gives a feeling of release, especially after the long and beautiful eight minutes before it. I could make a reference to sex here, but I won’t do it. I WON’T.
The flow from start to finish is hampered only by a couple songs: ‘Polynation’ and ‘Give it Away’. I wish they’d been cut from the release, but I can overlook them for the most part. It’s a dense album — slightly over an hour long — and, really, the majority of the music here is enjoyable, if more low-key and reverb-soaked than Bird’s other albums.
Why don’t you listen for yourself? Here are some tracks, courtesy of SoundCloud and the YouTubes:
While it won’t be the first Andrew Bird album I’d recommend to newcomers, it’s one that fans and strangers alike can enjoy all the same.
- Slower, subdued theme
- Melds together the best elements from Noble Beast and Useless Creatures
- Another hour of Andrew Bird goodness
- Two songs threw the pacing off and just don’t sound like they belong on the album
- Reused riffs from the Norman OST