countdown to Andrew Bird: One Day
Dear Andrew Bird fans,
Can you believe it? We’re in the home stretch.
As a point of ritual, I began my fast of Mr. Bird’s music last night, 48 hours before the live performance. I will follow this with 48 hours of additional fasting post-performance. What I find most important is not listening to ANY music, recorded or otherwise, for at least 12 hours following the show.
But to the point: I recently drove from Amherst, Virginia back home and had occasion to study Mr. Bird’s discography in chronological order during a compact amount of time. Did you know that 514 MB of music is equivalent to a 286 mile drive from Virginia Center for the Creative Arts to Bakersville, North Carolina? Likewise, said sound files amount to 92 songs, chronicling Mr. Bird’s discography in the following order:
1. Music of Hair (1997)
2. The Swimming Hour (2001)
3. Weather Systems (2003)
4. Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs (2005)
5. Armchair Apocrypha (2007)
6. Soldier On (2008)
7. Noble Beast and Useless Creatures (2009)
Note I did not include any of Mr. Bird’s “Bowl of Fire” work and I skipped the album w/ the girl and the dress on the cover because it didn’t have new work on it. Likewise, I skipped Live in Montreal (2008) for the same reason.
I began by asking the following questions:
1. How does Mr. Bird’s use of the “I” pronoun evolve over the course of time?
While I initially supposed that the I pronoun would dissolve the more famous Mr. Bird became, as happens with many musicians, this theory was quickly disproved. The I is still there on Noble Beast, loud and clear as ever. Where with Music of Hair the “I” literally doesn’t sound *like* Mr. Bird nor does his voice sound like one he truly feels on a personal level, by Weather Systems (which also carried the debut of his famous WHISTLING) we hear Mr. Bird’s voice come more into it’s own. He ditches the lower ranges of the earlier albums and ventures into a more audible, strongly felt and heard middle range. By Noble Beast we get falsettos and some high, long, tremellos. All of this is to say that as Mr. Bird’s use of the I pronoun matured through refined, image-filled lyrics over time, so, too, the unwritten “I” of the actual sound of his voice matured as the singer literally “found*his* voice,” as they say. Note: One test of a truly unique musician is often whether or not his music can be covered. Who covers Andrew Bird? Um. Nobody. But if you listen to Music of Hair, he covers some things and could be covered himself. Not so with Noble Beast and a handful of the more recent albums.
2. What are the most striking (to my ear) improvements in Mr. Bird’s musical craft over time?
Hands down, the most noticeably improved element of musical craft that I noticed when listening to this much of Mr. Bird’s music in quick succession is the refinement of layers. If you know Mr. Bird’s music, you know how he builds each song and that he layers many instruments over the top of another, looping back soundbytes and harmonizing with himself. Indulge me for a moment here and take this very fitting example under consideration: Listen to the opening track on Armchair Apocrypha, “Fiery Crash.” There is a dramatic musical marking of the line “…something apropos, I don’t know…” at 1:35. Notice how that commands our attention and is followed by immediate and intense layering. But listen closely and you will hear a bit of sloppiness. Is this the fact of the production or the producer? Was it Mr. Bird’s preference that these layers be somewhat indistinct? I like to think not but that reveals my bias. Now, compare that musical moment to the opening song of his next full length EP, Noble Beast. The first song is “Oh No” and focus on the lyrics around 1:32. Again, we reach a distinct place in the content of the narrative and in the musical experience followed by immediate and intense layering. But notice how much more distinct Mr. Bird’s vocals are this time, and then notice how clearly you can hear the various layers afterwards.
I know that Mr. Bird did some work with Wilco and their recording studio for Noble Beast. And I don’t know if he had a different producer for Noble Beast than his other albums, but without a doubt, this singer has filtered a mountain’s worth of snow through a sifter and let each delicate flake fall with distinct, crafted intention. It feels as though suddenly he is absolutely positive that he wants to be heard. Not just heard, but *understood*. There’s no hiding on Noble Beast, despite all the musical layers and lyrical metaphors, each track is very present and direct. It’s hard to pull off simplicity without sounding simplistic.
Ok, I’m starting to get abstract which means I have to stop myself.
This time two years ago I was dreaming in Andrew Bird lyrics. I can’t say the same has happened to me this go-round, but we still have one night till showtime…