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Bird draws influence from contemporary folk musicians in ‘Break It Yourself’

Alex Kilpatrick | Monday, April 2, 2012

Andrew Bird has pegged himself as one of the apologist indie singer-songwriters of our generation. With his sixth and latest solo studio LP “Break It Yourself,” he delves into social, religious and geopolitical issues, often all in the same song.

Bird gives the album opener “Desperation Breeds…” a haunting sound as he points towards the problem of rapidly decreasing bee populations. In “Danse Caribe,” he mixes an unexpected Afro-Caribbean beat with traditional fiddling and the token whistling for which he is best known, as he sings “Then one day you’d had it / Exiled your closest advisors.”

Bird appears to play outside of his comfort zone on lead single “Eyeoneye,” which has a straightforward indie rock sound but does not offer much conceptually. Granted, the single does contain a fake palindrome, reminiscent of “Fake Palindromes” from his third album “Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs.”

He delves into the idea of the fragility of truth and memory in the sleepy piece “Lazy Projector” as he whistles through the lyrics, “And it’s all in the hands of a lazy projector / That forgetting, embellishing, lying machine.” “Near Death Experience Experience” both ruminates on the fragility of life and celebrates its value (“And we’ll dance like cancer survivors / Like we’re grateful simply to be alive”) over instrumentals reminiscent of Bird’s early albums.

Solo act and fellow singer-songwriter St. Vincent accompanies Bird in a duet on “Lusitania,” which responds to Bird’s musings on memory in “Lazy Projector” while also touching on political events from World War I and the Spanish-American War. He sings, “We don’t study these wars no more.” “Sifters” plays like a lullaby with Bird’s wistful yet dynamic vocals, accompanied by woodblock and violin as he sings, “Sound is a wave like a wave on the ocean / Moon plays the ocean like a violin.”

“Hole in the Ocean Floor,” if nothing else, is certainly the longest track on the LP at a solid eight minutes. Bird offers a majestically layered soundscape of whistling and looped violins in this piece and blends in only a few scattered words throughout, “I woke with a start / Crying bullets, beating heart / To hear all God’s creatures / Roaring again.”

Bird successfully keeps “Break It Yourself” cohesive by threading it all together with short transition pieces like “Polynation” and “Behind the Barn.” Overall, the album exhibits Bird’s exceptional violin skills and typical folksy sound while drawing influence from contemporary folk acts like Fleet Foxes and Beirut.

That being said, unlike Bird’s other releases, there are no standout tracks on the LP, ones that will be remembered on their own merits. “Break It Yourself” flows together well as a whole concept album but does not present any clear favorites for Andrew Bird fans.

Contact Alex Kilpatrick at akilpatr@nd.edu