Since the late 90s, Andrew Bird’s music has dabbled in baroque, Americana, and gypsy jazz stylings — all invariably punctuated by pizzicato violin, and the kind of savvy whistling you hear on crackled recordings from the 1920’s, when whistling had its heyday. Throughout the years, the only threats to Andrew Bird’s swagger as a musician have been his tireless intellect and classical training. Now, intellect and classical training aren’t necessarily swagger killers, but they can limit the accessibility and warmth of music. On his latest LP, 2016’s Are You Serious, Bird harnesses his mind and virtuosity to produce a dynamic album that’s easy and enjoyable, while he continues to express himself through meta-lyrics sprinkled with word-of-the-day-calendar words, plucked violin, and jaw-dropping violin virtuosity.
Throughout the album, he’s joined by six-string polymath Blake Mills, who fleshes out the richly textured arrangements with pedal steel guitar, mandolin, and electric banjo. On “Left Handed Kisses” he’s locked in an argument about love songs with similarly eclectic, eccentric Fiona Apple. Collaborations have become increasingly important to Bird’s output, and he’s started Live from the Great Room, which has featured performances of his material with artists like Fiona Apple, Jackson Browne, Matt Berninger of the National, and Jim James of My Morning Jacket. These videos are worth checking out. The collaborations on Are You Serious ground Bird’s whimsical music and help to ensure that the songs exist in the world humans share, rather than in Bird’s esoteric reality.
The last time I saw Andrew Bird, he was touring Armchair Apocrypha (2007), donning a cardigan, a vest, and a shirt and tie, performing alone amidst spinning Leslie speakers that looked like old-timey phonographs and warped the sound waves with the Doppler effect. He vibed like a hip professor or mad scientist who lived with his head in the clouds, gracing the audience with the perspective he found in the sky. But with the passing years and the onset of fatherhood, Bird’s music has become more grounded in his personal experiences. Are You Serious is his first conventional LP release since settling down and starting a family, and these life events are apparent throughout the music. Whereas before Bird’s songs mused about apocalyptic futures where there’d be tables, chairs, and dancing bears, not to mention snacks, the tracks on Are You Serious feel much closer to expressions of Bird’s lived experiences w/r/t aging, love, restlessness, and sanity, to name a few. On Are You Serious, Bird expresses maturity as both a musician and a man, now living with his feet on the ground and his eyes on his family, when they aren’t glancing up at the clouds. — DILLON ALEXANDER