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Break It Yourself
Mom & Pop Music
by Matt Gonzales (7-4-2)The other day, Punchnel’s head honcho Ken Honeywell and I traded thoughts on Andrew Bird and his latest album, Break It Yourself. We agreed Bird is a superb instrumentalist with a knack for crafting very pretty, slightly off-kilter chamber pop, but neither of us are much excited by his music.
We didn’t talk about the reasons behind our feelings. But if Ken is like me, he’s put off by Bird’s tendency for plucky preciousness, always punctuated by patience-trying whistling and too-clever-by-half lyrics.
At the time of our conversation I hadn’t given Break It Yourself more than a cursory listen. Now that I have, I’m eating crow (or should I say “bird”): Break It Yourself is a beautiful record – Bird’s most sumptuous, exquisitely crafted one yet.
Why the change of heart? To these ears, this is the first album where Bird has traded in his set of nifty tricks and tics for a more direct approach to songwriting. This is Bird playing and singing not just with his head, but also his heart.
Some of the album’s finest moments are also, surprisingly, its simplest. On “Orpheo Looks Back,” Bird foregoes post-modern puckishness for an uncharacteristically earthy, emotional violin hoedown. Elsewhere, Break It Yourself is startlingly sad. Album opener “Desperation Breaks” marries a mournful croon on the part of Bird with a slow-building, spacey instrumental jam that reminds us why we started paying attention to Bird to begin with. He’s a marvelous musician who, on Break It Yourself, finally succeeds in combining the lyricism of his musicianship with songs that carry real emotional weight.
If you already like Bird, you’ll probably find a new favorite in Break It Yourself. If you’ve never heard him before, you’ll be drawn in by Break It Yourself’s sheer virtuosity and, eventually, mesmerized by its reticulate beauty.
by Chris Overpeck (4-7-1)Andrew Bird’s sixth album, Break it Yourself, is a long album by modern standards, clocking in at just over an hour, but somehow it manages to feel longer than that. A few of the songs tread dangerously close to “jam” territory (jamming with a violin, no less). And there’s a lot of violin on this album – plucked, strummed and bowed – and there’s a hell of a lot of his damned whistling. I have an aversion to all of these things and I was completely prepared to write this album off. But I simply can’t. It might not be tailor-made for my tastes, but it’s just too good to dismiss.
Andrew Bird is so talented (even his stupid violin and incessant whistling are undeniably of the highest grade) that I can’t help but wish he’d branch out and explore some slightly different sonic territories. Bird has released five albums in the last nine years, which is fairly impressive output, yet he’s failed to broaden his sound in any significant way. What Break it Yourself brings to the table, more than any album since 2005’s Mysterious Production of Eggs, is a collection of extremely well-crafted songs. Opening track “Desperation Breeds…” is heavy with instrumental breaks and musical swells and light on vocals, yet it’s the song that has most infected my subconscious. The majority of the songs, however, are slow burners; the best examples being the sparse and haunting “Fatal Shore” and the epic “Hole in the Ocean Floor.”
Break it Yourself is subtle enough to garner critical attention and win a new league of fans, yet consistent enough with his previous work to satisfy his considerable fan base. For my part, I’m rather surprised to say that this is a delightful album and certainly worth your attention.