National Public Radio consistently feeds listeners artists from all over the world, letting news radio junkies get in on a little audible love. More than once I’ve attended a concert and overheard someone mentioning they heard the band on NPR and that was their reason for coming to the show.
So Chicago-based indie rock revolutionary Andrew Bird made a smart decision when he allowed his new 14-track album “Break It Yourself” to be streamed on NPR.com. He’s no stranger to NPR praise, as his music has consistently been featured in live concert broadcasts and album promotions. The website gives visitors the option of listening to the album in its entirety or track-by-track. If given the time, forfeit the gym, embrace the couch, grab a glass of wine and opt for the full experience. With candles lit and glass in hand, just press play and listen.
After that quick finger stroke, the album immediately draws the listener in with sounds of Bird’s delicate pluckings on the violin and ethereal background harmonizing on “Desperation Breeds,” showing some of his old methods but with a slightly uncharacteristic sound that comes as a welcome change. Breaking through the harmonizing, Bird’s almost hypnotic voice emerges as an assurance to long-devoted fans that what follows will reflect his calmingly familiar musical style. It’s a typical Bird song in all of the right ways.
Dancing around subject matter and style, all of the tracks reflect some part of Bird’s tendencies toward the whimsical and greatly resemble his 2007 album, “Armchair Apocrypha,” both lyrically and musically. A few tracks later on “Danse Carribe,” Bird presents an intricate weaving of techniques. With traces of steel drums hinting at the title’s Caribbean reference, he works in elements of his inhuman whistling and Irish fiddle. In some strange but not unforeseen way, Bird pulls it off. He’s long been known as an expert of meshing genres, and “Danse Carribe” is the perfect example of his ability to end of a song almost unrecognizably, compared to the beginning, and yet never lose the listener’s eager ear.
More upbeat songs like sleeper “Eyeoneye” fall short in delivering the mundane yet magnificent air the slower ones bring to the album. Bird is an excellent multi-instrumentalist, and hearing every detail of every instrument on the eerie sci-fi sounding “Near Death Experience Experience” is far more profound.
As the album continues with the poetic renditions of Bird’s darker-than-usual subject matter, it becomes more evident that “Break It Yourself” is less reliant on his fancy ways with words. But where the album may be less lyrically prominent, the musical aspects do more than outweigh it.
Listening through its entirety is necessary to enjoy the album the way he intended. Reaching the close of the album, each track builds a distinct momentum toward a bittersweet finale. The last track, “Belles,” consists solely of the sweet summer sounds of chirping crickets accompanied by background synth and eponymous bells. The Broken Social Scene-esque composition pulls the album together and further proves Bird knows how to make an exit.
By the end of the last chime and cricket chirp, Bird again verifies that in an uncertain world he is an artist fans can rely on to consistently put out superb work.“Break It Yourself” does not fail to leave listeners eager for his next effort.