Review Summary: He could be right.
As easy as it would be to claim that Andrew Bird’s foray into the mainstream was totally unanticipated, it’s actually been lingering just around the corner for a while now. It’d be fair to assume that most listeners still associate Bird with the quaint, delightful folk of Break it Yourself
, or perhaps his most recent classically-influenced project Echolocations
. However, hints at a mainstream breakthrough date back to 2005’s ‘Fake Palindromes’, while 2016’s Are You Serious
saw him take his most pronounced turn towards cleaner-cut melodies. After decades of experimentation, he earned the right to hone his craft and create something purely enjoyable – and now he finds himself taking aim at his magnum opus. My Finest Work Yet
is a deliberately flashy indie-rock album that deftly balances Bird’s longstanding folk whimsy with newfound ambition.
If Break it Yourself
was his Fleet Foxes moment, dabbling in subtlety, then My Finest Work Yet
is his hour as Father John Misty. The melodies are catchier and more explosive, while his mannerisms have become declarative instead of meek or symbolic. The quaint simplicity of lyrics like “we’re mistaking clouds for mountains now” have been replaced by political and existential urgency, penning lines like “it feels like 1936 in Catalonia” or “it's the young ones that I fear for – forgive us, we know not what we've done.” This lifts Bird into the present, framing My Finest Work Yet
as something of a political/social commentary, albeit thankfully far less preachy than Josh Tillman. This transformation won’t have every fan of Thrills
smiling ear-to-ear, but this was always going to be Bird’s illustrious “statement” album – not a safe crowd pleaser. Call it divisive, call it growing pains – but either way, Andrew Bird isn’t the same artist that he used to be.
With all of this said, My Finest Work Yet
shouldn’t be mistaken for Bird selling out so much as projecting his typical style onto the big screen. Bird still weaves stunning violins into every crevice, lines them with gorgeous flourishes of classical piano, and then meanders off into one of his trademark whistling routines; the only difference is that all of this sounds more fresh and lively than ever before. It’s evident from the moment that ‘Sisyphus’ flows through your speakers, with Bird’s echoed and layered vocals actually resembling a melodic hook. He’s never sounded so dynamic and reassured, a notion that continues to grow on ‘Bloodless’ – a protest song subtilized by its lounging, relaxed aura. He even teases full-on rock n’ roll with ‘Olympians’, although he dials back the chorus right as it appears to be on the precipice of launching into a ridiculous ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ kind of moment. All of these pop culture comparisons are probably doing My Finest Work Yet
more harm than good, though the important takeaway here is that Bird is composing without inhibitions. Whereas previously he might have pulled the reins in, here he finds himself eagerly chasing those impulses.
All ten tracks brim with confidence. That’s not something we typically associate with Andrew, an artist who has built a reputation as a humble multi-instrumentalist who experiments with pastoral genres. Despite all the negative connotations that were likely invoked on account of implications that his sound is now sleeker and more accessible, the truth is that even if you were to coin My Finest Work Yet
as straight up indie-pop
, then it’s one of the most enjoyable and well-written of its genre. Regardless of categorization, this is a masterclass of songwriting which sees Bird take nary a track off; each is as essential and impactful to the bigger picture. It may not garner the same kind of fond appreciation that fans have for The Mysterious Production of Eggs
, or Break It Yourself
, but this album is less a niche corner of the folk genre and more an illustrious banner for all to appreciate. In Bird’s vast canon of genre experimentation, there’s room for at least one big time indie-rock record – and this fills those shoes quite well.