In the waning days of 2005, the Alternative & Indie forum on mx had a poll: name your favourite Bird-related artist. At the time, I confidently chose the Byrds
. Little did I know the "other" option would hold such allure only a few months later. For in those interim months, my bird-related palette expanded to include the appropriately-surnamed Andrew Bird. I picked up Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs after reading Zebra's inimitable review, originally assuming that the Mysterious Production of Eggs was the best-named backing band in history rather than a puzzling album title.
A former revival swing participant, Bird collaborated with the Squirrel Nut Zippers in his earliest days as a recording artist. On Eggs, his latest release, he has entirely shed the big-band affectations and instead firmly implanted himself in the indie music realm, something he had been inching toward since the release of his first solo release in the mid-90s. What separates him from the slew of indie singer/songwriters pervading the music scene at present are his undeniable jazz influences. While many of his contemporaries preach minimalism and perform within a narrow genre scope, he fuses jazz, indie and folk for ideal effect. Additionally, Bird doesn't limit his instrumentation to voice and guitar; instead, he uses his virtuosic abilities as a violinist and whistler abundantly, with chilling results. His voice ranges from soothing to startling, but in every case it suits the mood of the song at hand.
On the introductory song, a fluid and sombre instrumental, it becomes clear that this is not a typical, middling album. The instrumentation is sophisticated yet each part is performed airily. The piece crescendos before fading into "Sovay", a darkly mellow song which where the music focuses in on a simplistic guitar pattern and is subdued in most other areas before a final outburst, a far cry from his more refined work, but the restraint works just as well for Bird. The first half of the album is appealingly consistent, with no weak or lacklustre songs to be found. "A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left" features Bird at his whistling best; "Fake Palindromes" shifts up the tempo and presents a convincing argument for the use of violin as a rock instrument.
The second half of the record is less impressive and the songs begin to blend. "MX Missiles" and "Masterfade" are highlights, but nothing else in the last half is particularly of note. This is probably the biggest weakness of the album - if overplayed, each song becomes indistinguishable from the next and the need for something more palpable dawns. While initially the album may not be enthralling to all, like most mellow albums it is a grower and by the third or fourth round through, the charm of the record is alarmingly apparent. Just don't attempt to listen to it on repeat, or the former problem of unintentional amalgamation will emerge.
The Mysterious Production of Eggs is a record which offers breezy, whimsical music and in the next breath transforms to muted lamentation, but both extremes are equally captivating and hypnotic. On the surface his output does not seem complicated or overlayered, but this is more a result of his effortless playing and laid-back approach rather than it actually being a simple and basic record. While you may walk away from Eggs ready to show off your whistling skills to friends, or decide to pick up a violin because it can't be that hard, don't be fooled. Bird is indeed a genius at work.
For fans of Sufjan Stevens
and similar quirky indie folk music, Andrew Bird is required listening. His other albums delve further into swing, jazz and lounge music, and while Eggs is his most recent effort it is probably his most accessible and most accomplished in terms of consistency and flow.
I've already missed my chance to pick Bird as my favourite feathered friend, but should the opportunity arise to select a preferred performed named Andrew, I doubt my answer will take much deliberation.