An intricate web of ideas that tease the ear and hypnotise the soul, it’s difficult to believe that Andrew Bird‘s Break It Yourself took around about a week to record. It sounds like one of those records that’s been years in the making: tightly structured but in such a way to sound as if it’s always on the verge of falling gloriously apart. An assemblage of styles and instruments, from jazz to country to classical to pop – executed in a maelstrom of guitar, violin, brushed drums, chirps, chimes, loops and keys – it follows a melancholy vein from the opening bars of ‘Desperation Breeds’, which somehow manages to sound simultaneously uplifting and harrowing, through to its gentle, unsettling conclusion ‘Belles’, which fades away in a chorus of bird chirps and cricket calls.
Coming three years after the release of his commercial breakthrough, Noble Beast, Break It Yourself is a less immediate record but it yields more with repeated listens. There are dark corners and cascading melodies that come to the forefront at different times and Birds thoughtful, bookish lyrics improve with rumination. Recorded on an eight track at Bird’s barn in Western Illinois, it features a revolving door of collaborations grounded by a core group featuring drummer Martin Dosh, guitarist and pianist Jeremy Ylvisaker and Mike Lewis on bass and saxophone. The whole thing works incredibly well with nary a wrong note to knock it off its stride.
The eight minute-long ‘Hole in the Ocean Floor’ – entirely self-played – is Bird’s cinematic side unleashed in a meandering swirl of strings and loops. ‘Lusitania’, is a gentle, indie-country duet with Annie Clark, aka St Vincent, that dances along to a delightfully lazy beat held together by a smashing whistling part. The stand-out tracks ‘Danse Carribe’ and the fiddle led ‘Orpheo Looks Back’ venture into folk territories further afield than the Prairie State. The former takes a beautifully fragile central melody and runs South and beyond Trinidad. The latter mixes elements of Celtic and North African music – here Bird falls back on his upbringing playing Irish songs with the comforting assuredness of someone who knows the music; it’s limitations and its endless possibilities. He’s a musician whose keen understanding of balance makes him such a joy to listen to.
Review by Rachel Devine