“We’ll dance like cancer survivors,” sings Andrew Bird in “Near Death Experience,” “Like we’re grateful simply to be alive” — lyrics that resonate with profundity despite their simplicity. It’s with this cathartic candor that Bird’s Break it Yourself provides for a mesmerizing listening experience, proving once again that Bird’s continued success is not without merit.
Break it Yourself is a curious album in many ways. Although occasionally layered in complex melodies, as a whole, it encapsulates the feeling of a lethargic Sunday afternoon. While it’s more minimalistic than his previous works, the simple elegance Bird captures in his seventh studio album continues the spirit of his preceding albums, alongside a handful of more mainstream tracks that could easily top the charts. However, this diversity should please both longtime fans and new listeners.
While Bird is known for his multi-instrumental skill, Break it Yourself goes for a more simplistic approach with chamber pop, folksy acoustics that take the main stage over the complexity displayed in previous albums, like 2009’s Noble Beast. However, this change in approach isn’t necessarily a drawback — if anything, sticking with the basics just goes to show that Birds’ talent as a singer-songwriter doesn’t necessarily have to rely on theatrics to achieve success.
“Eyeoneye,” the album’s first single, is one of the few exceptions to the low-key feel, a powerful ballad about the inevitability of heartbreak. “No one can break your heart/So you break it yourself” sings Bird, as the song escalates into a fevered anthem that challenges the idea of self-imposed isolation. Reminiscent of Morrissey with a folky twist, Break it Yourself brings together many influences to form a final product that’s hard to pin down in terms of genre, but nonetheless comes together seamlessly.
“Things Behind the Barn,” an instrumental intermission that just barely extends the one minute mark, displays Bird’s masterful violin talent before the whistle-driven “Lusitania,” a duet with singer-songwriter Amy Clark (better known by her stage name, St. Vincent). Clark’s vocals nicely complement the relaxed ambiance of both the instrumentals and Bird’s voice, making it an album standout.
“Orpheo Looks Back” is another demonstration of Bird’s skill with strings, adding a more dynamic entry between the album’s other additions. In contrast, the more eclectic “Danse Carribe” provides a Celtic-inspired folk addition to the album, riddled with a fiddle solo between abstract, daydreamy lyrics.
While perhaps not the most innovative of Bird’s work, Break it Yourself takes power from its simplicity. At its core, Bird’s new album is about transitions — from childhood to adolescence, heartbreak to recovery and musically speaking, from the subdued to bold. Through these transitions, Bird perfectly captures a feeling of raw sophistication that many other modern-day artists lose through overproduction.
Printed on Tuesday, March 6, 2012 as: Artist exhibits simplicity despite ability