4.06.2005

The mysterious production of ANDREW BIRD

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While readers of my blog may know by now that I can spew hyperbole like no one else, there's one word that I don't use lightly when it comes to music and the people who make it: "Genius." I think people throw that word around too carelessly these days, and it can be embarassing.

But Andrew Bird... he's a fucking genius. A prodigy at the violin, he started playing at the age of four. A multi-instrumentalist, he played every single instrument (except drums) on his new album, & THE MYSTERIOUS PRODUCTION OF EGGS. His soaring vocals (and backing vocals) recall a more restrained Jeff Buckley, and his lyrics are some of the most interesting I've heard in years. Check out "A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left", with tons of clever wordplay like:

"Stretched out on the tarmac / Six miles south of North Platte / He can't stand to look back / on 16 tons of hazmat / So it goes undelivered" (Bird later returns to this verse but changes words around, singing "Splayed out on the bathmat / Six miles north of South Platte / He just wants his life back / What's in that paper knapsack?")

Oh yeah, and that weird Theremin-sounding spooky noise in the background? That's Andrew Bird whistling. The guy's a fucking expert whistler, too! Now that's talent. I've been reading that in concerts, if not accompanied by a band, Bird will pluck away on an instrument, sample the results and grab another instrument to create the impression that he's playing with a full band. If you find all that hard to believe, follow THIS LINK to a solo performance/interview Bird recently recorded for a Minnesota public radio station.

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I've posted one or two songs by Bird in the past (I think this is go-around #2 for "Nervous Tic"). Check out my post from 2 days ago for his heartbreaking "Lull," a song from his WEATHER SYSTEMS album that has pretty much become my soundtrack these days. If I'm walking around in public and that song comes on my iPod, I'm seriously compelled to sing along every single time. If that one wasn't enough to get you to check out that album, try "Action / Adventure". It's like a piece of classical music colliding with a theme song to an old western. There's that whistle again.

But if you really want a great place to start, hunt down that MYSTERIOUS PRODUCTION album. 14 songs and each one's a keeper, like "Sovay," which originally appeared as a bonus track on WEATHER SYSTEMS. This is the SYSTEMS version, but it's not radically different from the new version. (If any fans out there can find me an .mp3 of him playing this song with My Morning Jacket, I'll gladly hunt and kill your enemies.) For a change of pace, try out the jazzy, swinging "Skin is, My". That "guitar solo" is him plucking away on his violin, by the way.

Look, my point is that the guy isn't just talented. He's a force of nature, and he absolutely cannot be trapped by the confines of genre. His most varied work can be found on four albums from his band, Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire. Since Bird was a recent discovery for me, I haven't had the cash to check out all of their records, but one that I can definitely stand behind is 2001's THE SWIMMING HOUR. The band's previous records were full of references to everything from ragtime jazz to German music, but TSH is their most "pop" effort to date. The amount of songcraft on this record is simply insane, and trying to pick out all the styles of music that drift in and out of each song is impossible. For example, "Core and Rind" contains elements of rock, soul, funk and more... and then, at the 1:38 mark, you even get a little 60s psych rock keyboard.

I recently closed a friend's mix CD with "11:11", and I think it's the perfect way to close tonight's post. If this song, which speaks to the fleetingness of life the certainty of death, fails to seal the deal between you and Mr. Bird, I can't do anything else for you tonight.

"And the end's coming soon."

FOR MORE ON ANDREW BIRD:

Follow THIS LINK to hear a new song, "Dark Matter"
Bird's official site, where most of these pics come from
Link to a live Bird appearance on WFMU
His Allmusic.com bio
Bird's page at Righteous Babe records, where you can listen to his new album in Quicktime

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13 comments:

walbers said...

dylan, i saw him open for Ani DiFranco (who I'm hoping you'll include in your blog someday) this past Valentine's Day here in Santa Barbarra, and he was astonishing! he came out, started plucking something on his violin and you could see him pushing a pedal that recorded this bit. then he'd replay that loop and start recording another bit, then loop that on top of the first bit then loop another bit....when he had 3 or 4 bits going he'd break out his guitar and wail on that, capturing some more to loop...then some singing..and the whistling!! crikey, i've never heard anyone whistle like that on command. i mean, usually it seems you have to build up a head of steam to get a whistle out but he'd just come out with a perfect whistle whenever he wanted one. He only played about 30 minutes but the audience was gob smacked. As for Ani...well, she was just brilliant, as usual. rgds, will

alex said...

I second that Bird/Ani comment. Saw them at the Fillmore in SF. Great one-man show and excellent songwriter as well. He joined Ani for a bit too. I do have to say that while he's obviously a very gifted whistler I found it a bit too jarring. But Tiny Tim always seemed like a walking nightmare to me, so who knows.

Les said...

Oh, I've been a huge fan of Andrew Bird for a while now, and it made me happy to see him in the spotlight on your blog today. Although it also made me a little sad because I couldn't download anything new ;-)

You guys make me jealous with all your concert talk - there's NO good concerts in Alaska.

countrygrrl said...

hey there...gr8t find as usual. Liked this guy a lot and will check him out. He may come to sunny edinburgh where i will be first in the queue. having a chill out night here catching up on blogs and along with songs:illinois yours is one of the first.have a faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaab night

Dylan Gaughan said...

Thanks for the comments, all. And sorry I couldn't scoop you on any songs, Les! I'll hunt for some rare stuff.

If you go over to his site and check out his media links, there's an incredible 1 hour live radio show he taped (he shared the stage with... ugh... Crash Test Dummies). I stayed up unitl 6 am this morning watching it and his performance blew me away. It was precisely how walbers described it... a flurry of violin, whislitng, guitar, foot pedals, etc. Guy's a pimp.

Dylan

Anonymous said...

not saying that he is in the same league or anything, but keller williams is also a one-man band who will play all the instruments himself and loop them. he solos over his rythymn, drums, etc. he even harmonizes with himself. does not translate as well to record, but if you have a chance to see him live it is definitely worth it.

CHW said...

I saw Andrew and his Bowl of Fire band a few years back at SXSW and it was stellar. They brought the house down. Killer stuff. Thanks for highlighting this master in your blog.

Lester said...

Oh, don't be sorry! I don't expect my blog posts to scoop everyone either... the point, I think, is to post good music, which you do :-)

Oh, and I second the recommendation of Keller Williams. I've been addicted to him for a while too. If you'd like a good Keller Williams song, you can download it at http://www.aspoonfuloflester.com/movingsidewalk.mp3

Anonymous said...

dylan et al,

jonesy here. this has nothing to do with the current theme of the blog, but music lovers should definitely check this site out:

http://www.smithsonianglobalsound.org/geocache.asp

it is the smithsonian's world music page, downloads are $0.99. you can search by geography or instrument. AWESOME!!!!

pageblank said...

Dylan,

There is a posting of a KCRW radio show on his site. I was wondering if anyone had any ripped mp3's from that stream. I don't know how to work that stuff!

I currently gurgle in delight whenever I listen to Andrew Bird. Did everyone see his list on Pitchfork?

melissa said...

oh no!! i've come in too late. i missed the andrew bird mp3s :( oh well great find anyway! ive got some shins videos i recorded from a recent show at CMU in mid april if you are interested. -melissa

Dylan Gaughan said...

Hey Melissa, hit me offlist with your email address and let me know what songs you were looking for.

Jenny said...

I've an intense love for Andrew Bird and he's the only 'celebrity crush' I'll allow myself to have. I got into him because of Ani DiFranco (as I see a few people have here, too).