Pop Addict: Andrew Bird’s Break It Yourself

Every other Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Andrew Bird: Break it Yourself

Andrew Bird: Break It Yourself (Mom+Pop, 3/6/12)

Andrew Bird: “Give It Away”

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Album after album, few artists are able to maintain a distinct sound while pushing (and sometimes breaching) boundaries. Taking songwriting to new heights and depths while adhering to one’s own musical identity is something that doesn’t happen often enough. But Andrew Bird is one such artist. Ever since his breakout 2005 album, The Mysterious Production of Eggs, the former Squirrel Nut Zippers member has become an anomaly, melding together straightforward song-craft with whimsical idiosyncrasies.

Now the Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist has orchestrated a new album that is sonically arresting, even for those who have grown accustomed to Bird’s musical style and tendencies. Break It Yourself marries Bird’s more straightforward songwriting, featured prominently on his last few releases, with the progressive sounds of his 2010 instrumental release, Useless Creatures. The new album makes a home in the middle ground, and prospers for its entirety.

All of the old staples are here (swooning violins, effervescent guitar lines, staccato intros, whistle solos, glockenspiel adornments, etc.), but the classically trained Bird is able to retool those instruments into a diverse range of sounds. For instance, “Give it Away” features distorted violin finger-picking to reinforce the melody; album opener “Desperation Breeds” showcases a violin lead that sounds more like a synthesizer than a stringed instrument; and “Lazy Projector” gets its start with a peculiar vocal melody that sounds like it was recorded underwater. All this and more lets Bird break out of his shell and harness his eccentricities more than ever.

Beyond the music, though, is Bird’s knack for resonant, clever, and assorted lyrics and themes. Always one of his strong suits, Bird’s lyrics tackle everything from the unreliability of memory to bee populations to dancing “like cancer survivors.” As always, with Bird’s skill for lyrical dexterity, there is never a dull moment on the album as far as the written word goes. But when Bird balances those sentiments and quirky musings with the more out-there musical elements, Break It Yourself is truly at its finest. (And it doesn’t hurt when he’s collaborating with someone like St. Vincent on “Lusitania” either.)

From the animated “Danse Carribe” to the harrowing “Near Death Experience Experience,” Bird proves why he is such a token in music today, appealing to fans of multiple genres while staying true to his own sound and perceptiveness. Although the album isn’t as immediately accessible as some of his past releases, the singer-songwriter is able to reel in listeners thanks to his knack for erudite composition. With Break It Yourself, Bird never employs a one-size-fits-all mentality; rather, he continually tries new tricks and trades, making for a less straightforward but much more mesmerizing work.

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