Style: Indie-folk-rock; compare to Sufjan Stevens, Mumford & Sons, Wilco
Top tracks: "Danse Caribe," "Eyeoneye," "Orpheo Looks Back"
A virtuoso of his generation, Andrew Bird has achieved what all artists desire but few ever attain: A unique style. It's a very simple formula (which is probably why it works so successfully)—he whistles, and he loops violin harmonies. But any other artist that attempts to mimic this formula will immediately be charged with thievery, and rightly so. Bird owns the monopoly, with hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place.
But it would be a mistake to say that whistling and violin looping is all there is to Bird's musical success. He has gracefully built up an aesthetic over the past decade. He surrounded himself equally skilled backing band members and visual artists. His handmade flower-shaped amplifiers are another distinctive image solely designed for the Andrew Bird experience. He is his own brand. An original artist in every way.
On Break It Yourself, his sixth full-length, Bird treats fans to delicately jazzy percussion, drawling vocals that sing of mystifyingly ambiguous topics, folky-as-ever strings, and that old standby of indie rock eclecticism (glockenspiel all day). It's more of the same from Bird, which is fine, because he has absolutely no reason to change his formula. He still sounds unlike anyone else, and he would be foolish to try to fix something that isn't broken—which beckons the album title.
Bird's lyrics have always playfully danced around themes of existential mortality, appropriately keeping the weight of his whimsical tunes low to the ground. "Fatal Shore" includes some of the most striking lines: "When are you comin' to shore / To never fear anymore / You never know any doubt / Like we who breathe in and out," suggesting death is as inevitable as life. In "Eyeoneye" he sings, "You've done the impossible now / You took yourself apart / Made yourself invulnerable / No one can break your heart / So you break it yourself." This couldn't be truer of anyone but Bird, who has solidified himself into such a firm place in music and art history that he's virtually become an impenetrable archetype. Perhaps the years of careful construction that built Bird into the success he is today has become his dilemma.
So what does it mean for the artist to break himself? His somber questions are personal yet beckon listeners to ask similar ones of themselves. "We who breathe in and out," includes Bird and everyone else. Who among us is broken? Or better yet, who among us is not broken … and how do we get from here to there?
Break It Yourself wrestles with the wiles of humility as only a self-aware artist knows how, but Andrew Bird wrestles with masterful poise and gravity.
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