Andrew Bird
Break It Yourself


4.5
superb

Review

by Keelan H. EMERITUS
March 5th, 2012 | 138 replies | 28,721 views


Release Date: 2012 | Tracklist


Andrew Bird’s Armchair Apocrypha and Noble Beast could be considered two spin-offs stemming from his most critically praised work, The Mysterious Production of Eggs. The former took after Eggs’ more bombastic numbers, like “Fake Palindromes,” and the latter after the more lilting and folk-based songs, like “Masterfade.” Paired with Useless Creatures, the instrumental companion album to Noble Beast, and the recent soundtrack work for the indie film Norman, it comes as no surprise that Break It Yourself, Andrew Bird’s tenth album under his own name, has embraced the sprawl. NPR’s Stephen Thompson posed it aptly when introducing Bird’s latest: “listen closely to lustrous, uncommonly delicate ballads like ‘Sifters’ and the eight-minute ‘Hole in the Ocean Floor,’ and the washed-out colors start to shine.” I wouldn’t say any of these ballads are “uncommonly delicate”--Andrew Bird has had his share of beautifully tender slow burners--but the idea of subtlety abounds in these fourteen tracks. That subtlety has always fuelled detractors who desire more of the extroverted pop, like “Darkmatter” or “Fake Palindromes,” but the most dominant displays of Bird’s talent has always been in the way he unfurls the layers of his songs with his talented violin, whistling, and word-play. These are all elements that Break It Yourself maintains.

But everything is slightly more subdued this time around. The fancy wordplay, that reached dizzying, and at times annoying, new syllabic and onomatopoeic heights on Noble Beast, has been pared back slightly on Break It Yourself, opting for more concise and unusually incisive lyrics; on “Danse Carribe,” for example, Bird croons “we’re mistaking clouds for mountains now,” aiming at lament for the failure of perception, whether in childhood or in later years. Swinging syllables and phonetic dancing is mostly traded for these deeper insights, but Bird’s signature lyrical style still maintains some of its more capricious elements, especially on “Lusitania.” It’s all familiar, but just a touch different, a touch softer and sadder. In many ways this is Andrew Bird matured. Not that he was immature before now, but experience has honed a meticulous and careful sound structure. This may be Bird’s most complete record. The oak cask has set; the textures are fuller and the colours a little deeper. Because Andrew Bird has never been one to change dramatically from album to album, he is a tinkerer taking slightly different approaches with each new venture, like between Armchair Apocrypha and Noble Beast, while never eschewing from what makes him a singular artist. Of course, this has led to criticisms of predictability, which I have always found problematic.

It’s a criticism that seems symptomatic of the internet age and its persistent fetishization of trends and fads. Bird’s music is usually much too subtle to gain the sort of hype that one hit indie-poppers sometimes receive (though “Fake Palindromes” tangoed with it). Not that he doesn’t fit the pop bill; first single “Eyeoneye” has a steady drum beat and a wonderful bit of wordplay in the ecstatic coda, but even in this, his most extroverted track, most of the song’s strengths bubble below the surface, taking time to reveal themselves. It’s a catchy song, but in an obtuse fashion. The eight-minute “Hole in the Ocean Floor” is the logical extreme of Break It Yourself’s aesthetic, fully embracing the atmospheric sprawl of Bird’s looping and lilting strings that counterpoint, build upon, and alter the initial low-key but gorgeous main theme that calls to mind Sigur Ros’ “Olsen Olsen.” If anything, he seems to be moving further away from “pure” pop song-craft (and I’m aware of the problems in this statement), embracing his classical and folk background on a more total basis. “Danse Carribe,” maybe one of Bird’s finest song-writing moments, takes a heartbreaking melody and slowly molds it into an extended middle section featuring polyrhythmic pizzicato and a mesmerizing bit of fiddle playing, countering the drifting melancholy that dominates the song’s opening and closing sections.

And that seems to be exactly what Break It Yourself wants to be, moments of lighthearted uplift amidst the melancholy. Not heavy-handed or weighty melancholy in a Virginia Woolf kind of way, more in the way of sun-bleached old photographs of past loves: a postcard to the mellifluous nostalgia of summer love past. The image is informed much by the lyrical themes that dominate the album; Break It Yourself is a veiled and twisting record, traversing a memory that is love-stricken and love-sick--a break up album breaking up within itself. So Bird’s lilting strings and gentle guitar play mix even better with his cheery and ethereal whistling here. Though it’s a lengthy record, at just over an hour, it’s a rewarding one. The colours are complex, the song-writing is informed by an artist who has been doing this for a long time, and the temporality of life seems to curl the edges of these pieces in a splendor of sadness. But this is not dejection, merely a nostalgic sadness, a sadness of loss and remembrance. And as the remarkable “Sifters,” perhaps Andrew Bird’s most fully realized ballad, comes to a close, he makes all of these sentiments incredibly clear: “What if we hadn’t been each other at the same time? Would you tell me all the stories from when you were young and in your prime? Would I rock you to sleep? Would you tell me all the secrets you don’t need to keep? Would I still miss you? Oh, would you then have been mine?”



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user ratings (249)
Chart.
3.9
excellent
other reviews of this album
rmill3r (4)
Bird's yearning subtlety is warm and inviting, and we couldn't hope for anything less....


Comments:Add a Comment 
thebhoy
Emeritus
March 5th 2012



4459 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

The first entry on my AOTY contender list. I really think this is at least on par with Mysterious Production of Eggs, but in a totally different way

Ponton
Emeritus
March 5th 2012



5791 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

hell yeah

now i know i can waste time getting into this

thebhoy
Emeritus
March 5th 2012



4459 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

My review was almost gonna be just posting the lyrics to Sifters omgwoeiju4wr[0je0o[j

Xenophanes
Emeritus
March 5th 2012



10593 Comments


Gaaaahhhh I want to hear this now

WeepingBanana
March 5th 2012



10103 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

i was gonna review this. still might

but yeah this review pretty much sums up how i feel. the second half of this album is fucking flawless. overall eggs is still better but lazy projector to belles is probably andrew bird at his best

wacknizzle
March 5th 2012



12993 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I can't wait to hear this especially if it's as good as you say it is. Gonna pick this up after class tomorrow fa sho.

Digging: Polyptych - Illusorium

Ponton
Emeritus
March 5th 2012



5791 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

some people say bird cant sing

fuck those people

WeepingBanana
March 5th 2012



10103 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

i still can't get over how good Hole In The Ocean Floor is

chambered69
March 5th 2012



1253 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

i love this dude will def listen to this

Itwasthatwas
March 5th 2012



769 Comments


Wasn't expecting this to be that good but it really impressed me

robin
Emeritus
March 5th 2012



4248 Comments


kee-man, this is my first andrew bird album, and i like it a lot.

...what a comment!

NeutralThunder12
March 5th 2012



8742 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

no way this is a 4.5. I really enjoyed Eggs and Armchair is his best, this i obviously nice but some of it is plain old boring.

Guiltor
March 5th 2012



31 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Well crap. As if I wasn't already eagerly anticipating this.

NeutralThunder12
March 5th 2012



8742 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Lazy Projector, EyeonEye and Hole in the Ocean Floor are amazing, the rest is either average or ok.

thebhoy
Emeritus
March 5th 2012



4459 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Neutral do you ever get tired of being wrong?

iFghtffyrdmns
March 5th 2012



7047 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

holy fuck, awesome review, can't wait to hear this.

WeepingBanana
March 5th 2012



10103 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

yeah seriously Orpheo Looks Back has probably the most beautiful violin work he's ever done

joshuatree
Emeritus
March 5th 2012



3743 Comments


really surprised by how much i like this, everything else he's done has kinda bored me

NeutralThunder12
March 5th 2012



8742 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

@tbhoy or having an opinion

Ponton
Emeritus
March 5th 2012



5791 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

neutral have you ever known true love irl?



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