Review: Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself

Recorded in Andrew Bird’s barn, Break it Yourself holds a sense of spontaneity, an innate feeling of sincerity. The quality and talent exhibited on each track holds the listener rapt. The entire album gives a sense of performance; it is as Andrew Bird wished: the antithesis of production, not a series of decisions, but a performance. It is not linear, it is a quirky performance receptive to the moment it was played, and incidentally, recorded. Its genuine nature compels you to go inside yourself so thoroughly and so completely that it is as if there’s nothing else around but the music filtering into your head.

Andrew Bird plays subtly and gently on his incredibly proficient aptitude for the violin throughout Break it Yourself. It gives the album a steady, unperturbed orchestral backdrop. Bird places purely instrumental tracks with great care throughout the album. His utilisation of incredibly light fiddle plucking, swooning violin and light drum tapping on purely instrumental tracks demonstrates his innate ability as a composer. Polynation exhibits this; it provides a short, light transition from Desperation Breeds.

Andrew Bird’s vocals on Desperation Breeds are reminiscent of The Shins’ James Mercer. Desperation Breeds evokes desolation, his voice cracks with the utterance of ‘desperation’, the man singing is unscarred, unafraid, unfinished. Desperation Breeds has no ending, no beginning, Polynation seamlessly follows, the two songs are torn from a greater body; they embody buoyant hope. The haunting whistling of Bird and interspersed guitar picking is set against a steady wire tapped, soft drum beat and deceivingly jubilant xylophone. Bird’s violin pulls the melody towards joy.

Orpheo Looks Back sees the incredibly beautiful use of a quick, alternating muted guitar strum with a nimble fiddle pluck. Bird subtly induces the listener to an Irish folk jig; he layers the fiddle and guitar muting with his vocals and careful, arresting guitar picking. The first minute is a clever patchwork of multi-instrumentation. It is a premise for his open exhibition of his admiration for Irish folk music and the music of the Irish jig. He subtly and skilfully introduces a deep violin solo, eked deeply in folk tradition. He jaunts from this to his opening patchwork fiddle and guitar solo. The clever lyricism is almost lost to the beauty of his composition, ‘See you don’t look, Cause it’ll drive you mad’. It is a song so full of life and tradition, it is a clear and beautiful break from other current releases. His musical talent is clearly demonstrated.

Hole in the Ocean Floor begins with a tender fiddle pick; it evokes the music of Elizabethan England. Andrew Bird’s striking whistling is haunting. His magnificent vocal talent is demonstrated here, his voice is elegant, and it soars gracefully. The technical perfection of his vocals is stunning. It is set against graceful strings; Bird’s violin is both jubilant and sorrowful, always perfectly fitting Bird’s vocal temper.

I feel almost shameful that this is my first proper listen to Andrew Bird. He has featured on over fifty albums, Break it Yourself is his seventh solo album since 1996. Whilst gaining a popular rapport in America, Andrew Bird hasn’t yet received the recognition he deserves in Britain. Break it Yourself is a beautiful composition; I hope it is one which brings him an appreciative, larger British audience.

Cat Gough


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