Chicago native Andrew Bird’s latest offering “Break it Yourself” stays true to the clever wit and one-of-a-kind whimsy that fans have come to expect from his music.
As a master of blending virtuoso violin playing and a signature whistling style that’s seemless in its own right (among other delightful flourishes), Bird manages to always effortlessly maintain a pop sensibility that warrants repeat playing without becoming too dull. It’s no different this time around.
On “Desperation Breeds”, the album’s opener, Bird delicately ruminates on the world’s bee shortage before slowly breaking into a high pitched violin squeal that dips into a mad frenzy of his trademark fingering skills. It almost literally seems to channel the frustration and confusion of the bees themselves.
“Eyeoneye”, a track that manages to correlate heartbreak and the complications of a tumor called a teratoma is as catchy as anything he’s done in the past, if not more so. The driving force of the melody makes vulnerability seem like a fun experience that no one should miss out on. This is especially clear towards the end when he sings/chants “Go ahead and defibrillate yourself” before the pounding drums build to a crescendo… and then fizzle with, of course, a light whistle; as if we just ran a hardcore marathon like it was nothing. Exhaustion doesn’t exist here, but exultation.
The hearbreak theme continues in “Near Death Experience Experience”, where the happiness of surviving a plane crash is dancing “… like cancer survivors… grateful simply to be alive”. But don’t let the dark subject matter fool you. The carefree mood of the song is so happy it’s like skipping down a sidewalk under a row of apple trees. Only when the apples hit your head do you realize the power conveyed in the lyrics of triumph over pain.
Who knew the subject of conquering fear and doubt could be so purely gorgeous? Take “Fatal Shore”, where a mellow Mr. Bird meditates on the subject as quietly subdued as ever, but no less emotionally powerful as some of his best tracks. The drums gently tap along with the guitar and bass like a gentle stroke on an aching back as Bird and vocalist Nora O’Connor harmonize beautifully while repeating such lyrics as “You never know any doubt like we who breathe in and out”.
A welcome comeback since 2009’s “Noble Beast”, we get a record not quite as immediately accessible or endlessly playful, but one that still stands as strong as most of his best work does. The details become more apparent with each listen, and that’s when the realization sets in: “Break it Yourself” isn’t just an album about a break-up. It’s actually a complete, beating entity, not too unlike a heart with its own love to give.
I personally wouldn’t want to break this kind of heart by myself. That’s where you, the listener, comes in… to feel the joy of heartbreak. An oxymoron that only makes sense in Andrew Bird’s world.