You can say Andrew Bird is an idiosyncratic artist in that homogeneous pool of Indie musicians and that he goes through an eccentric and docile ebb and flow, but the meticulous craftsmanship that goes into each album cannot be mistaken. Bird has always had a penchant for juxtaposing rhythmic indie pop with his virtuosic violin and whistling incantation that loop into a giant ethereal swoon. These principles remain in “Break It Yourself.” Bird’s macabre storytelling deals with more introspective lyrical matter and sonics that soundly seep in as opposed to blasting with full, immediate effects. The structure is off-balance and sprightly, but Bird has never been one to have a stern way of approaching music; his approach has always come from an organic and expressive format. This is what makes “Break It Yourself” worth a listen, even if you sometimes forget that it’s playing.
The album starts off with some baroque plucking on “Desperation Breeds,” a tale of the delicate balance of the ecosystem in relation to the dying bee population and its impending future implications. It is all interspersed with gliding guitar sounds and glockenspiel that all come into fruition after its chamber pop intro. The folk roots shine through on standout “Danse Carribe,” a jaunty track that careens the line of pleasant balladry to that of a calypso steel-drum in the middle that ends up being a fiddle fest with a stirring violin solo as it all washes and rides along seamlessly. It’s nothing that one would expect from a folk type artist and almost certainly feels in line with the aforementioned sensibilities of someone as inspired as Bird. He sees the world as he does his music, in the lush, colorful kaleidoscope that twists and turns in unpredictable and imaginative ways. He can describe ideas of autonomy and is near self-delusion when he says “here we go mistaking clouds for mountains now;” he recounts historical war accounts about a sinking ship (implied metaphor about sinking relationship) on “Lusitania” that features St. Vincent’s Annie Clark and make mention of the BP oil spill in the sprawling eight minute “Hole In the Ocean Floor,” which begins with muted plucking that suddenly breaks into wobbly whistling and subtle strums of guitar layered with violin and and atmospheric harmonies. “Belles” features(spoiler alert) bells, chimes and crickets that synchronize together that, dependent on the listener, emotes a feeling amid the cacophony or is just a track you can add to your ambient sleepy time mix. It’s interesting how Bird’s music parlays into the overall music landscape and can serve different purposes to each listener, allowing it to be appreciated in its diversity.
In “Break It Yourself,” Bird has foregone the intricate solo production of past albums to go with a more instinctual setup of performing with a full live band and recording through a Tascam 8-track. Long-time collaborator Martin Dosh brushes on his drum kit with clear precision, the whole ensemble comes through on the desolate “Give It Away” and also in the more straightforward indie pulse of “Eyeoneye.” Here, he exclaims “Made yourself invulnerable, No one can break your heart, So you break it yourself” but the sounds that accompany those heart-ladened lyrics come off as cathartic more than they do resentful.
“Break It Yourself” doesn’t have the sudden impact of previous efforts, but Bird can still make music that doesn’t need to sound grandiose for it to have a long-lasting effect.