Andrew Bird’s ‘Break It Yourself’: Adventurous, without too much whistling
By Timothy Bracy, Published: March 5
Over a 15-year recording career, Andrew Bird has accrued a dedicated fan base fashioned from a flair for palatable eclecticism and a carefully cultivated image that frequently appears to have tumbled off the screen of a Wes Anderson movie. Bird is, inarguably, a talented multi-instrumentalist with a gift for combining elements of folk, jazz and world music into an individual and coherent whole. He also can demonstrate a weakness for grating whimsy and unnecessary gimmickry, best exemplified by his trademark whistling, a parlor trick that often ornaments his songs but almost never contributes to their success.
“Break It Yourself” is a hit-and-miss affair, but one that at least tends to subjugate Bird’s sillier ideas behind a collection of tuneful contemplations on love and longing. “Danse Carribe,” with its jazzy time signatures, loping pace and pastoral imagery, recalls Van Morrison in full on “Astral Weeks” mode, gradually spinning an elliptical narrative over a bed of acoustic guitar and light orchestration. “Fatal Shore” sounds similar but not as compelling: a rote endeavor into indie melancholy featuring funereal drums, female harmonies and, inevitably, a whistling solo.
Bird often fares best when demonstrably exiting his comfort zone. “Eyeoneye” stomps pleasingly through its inscrutable lyrics on the strength of an ersatz Beach Boys melody. The album’s final track, “Belles,” is three minutes of feedback-laden atmosphere resembling John Cale’s most attractive experimentation. Coming at the end of an hour’s worth of frequently too-baroque arrangements, “Belles” is a lovely exercise in restraint. It’s also a fittingly enigmatic finale for an album on which Bird continues to vacillate between adventurous artist and NPR comfort food.