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coverpic flag US - Illinois - Full Moon 241 - 04/22/16

Andrew Bird
Are You Serious
Loma Vista/Wegawam Music Co.

It's been twenty years since Andrew Bird put out his first album, Music of Hair, self-released in 1996 later to be re-released by Grimsey Records and Wegawam Music. Over the years, he has put out a line of records including three albums as Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire: Thrills (1998), Oh! The Grandeur (1999), and The Swimming Hour (2001) - all three for the Rykodisc label. He came up with some real, pure gold with his superb third album (as Andrew Bird), Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs (2005, on Righteous Babe), as well as the almost as good following albums, Armchair Apocrypha (2007) and Noble Beast (2009) - both for the Fat Possum label. Even though his records haven't been all too disappointing in later years (with albums such as his 2012 album Hands of Glory, or his Handsome Family 'tribute' of 2014, Things Are Really Great Here...), he has not topped his golden strike of albums from, say 2005-2009 either. All this brings us up to his ninth album, Are You Serious.

To quote (some of) the definition of 'serious' by The Free Dictionary we get 'Careful in thought, full of concern, or restrained and dignified in manner; somber or grave' Yes, Andrew Bird's music (and lyrics) is careful and he is presenting somewhat concerned, dignified, somber and grave songs. However, he is also indeed playful and entertaining as an artist with his clever violin string plucking or brushing, his cool loops and rhythms, and his charming and at times witty whistling. He is an eminent guitar player as well as a splendid vocalist. "Capsized" was the first single off ...Serious, as it was launched in early February. "Capsized" is a cool breeze of a song, while "Roma Fade" (almost) brings my thoughts back to his aforementioned 'golden' pop period. "Truth Lies Down" makes me think Bird has something in common with the eccentric pop artist Paddy McAloon (of Prefab Sprout 'fame') as a songwriter. At times, I even come to think of Bryan Ferry (slightly, only slightly with "Saints Preservus"). Even though "Puma" is a tiptoe poppy song, it seems Andrew Bird has shifted more to the basic singer-songwriter track or path, such as with songs like "Chemical Switches", and the folksy "Saints Preservus", the somewhat (slightly) Neil Youngish "Bellevue", and "Valleys of the Young" - even though the latter is highly electric. The superb, angry and bittersweet 'break-up' ballad "Left Handed Kisses" is a duet with Fiona Apple and it is a smashing song (guided by an efficient music video, 'feeling' almost like being a 'musical' short film). And, mind you, this comes from a happily married (with children) man. Amazing. Well, the song is about Bird realising he's come to the point of writing love songs. The title track (co-written with Dan Wilson) appears almost semi-epic (even though it cuts/ends too fast, too early) and is one of the key tracks of the album, even though "Roma Fade", "Capsized" and "Left-Handed Kisses" stand out as the best tracks. These three are also the first three singles from the album, plus a fourth, "Valleys of the Young" - which is also a strong track, especially when it cranks up and goes electric. The calmer closing track (of the regular album), "Bellevue" is also a fine song worth mentioning.

The deluxe edition of ...Serious holds "Shoulder Mountain" and "Pulaski" (included on the 7" single for the vinyl edition) as 'extras'. "Shoulder Mountain" is another tiptoe Bird (on a wire?) spirited and colourful massive pop song, while "Pulaski" is an exotic version of the 'title track' from ...Pulaski at Night - being an ode (?) to his hometown of Chicago. Are You Serious is a diverse and varied album, from (more or less) stripped, folksy ballads, via signature Bird pop, to the calypso pop of "The New Saint Jude". Andrew Bird is a genius multi-instrumentalist (violin, guitar, mandolin, xylophone, various loops & effects, glockenspiel, not to forget his great voice and cool whistling - yes, Bird wrote and performed "The Whistling Caruso" for The Muppets movie (2011). This time it seems Bird has skipped/paused his regular backing/touring band, The Hands of Glory (counting guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker, bass player Alan Hampton and drummer Martin Dosh). Among the ...Serious players we find guitarist/composer/producer Blake Mills (who's been working/collaborating with Fiona Apple, Conor Oberst, Weezer, The Avett Brothers, Alabama Shakes, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, Carlene Carter, Dixie Chicks, Pink, Lana Del Rey, DangerMouse to name but a few). All in all, Are You Serious is a fine album but I guess I'll be returning to Bird's older records before this one. But who knows; ...Serious keeps on growing on me...

Copyright © 2016 Thure Kumlien e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Andrew Bird articles/reviews: Armchair Apocrypha, Break It Yourself, Capsized, Hands of Glory, I Want to See Pulaski at Night, Noble Beast, The Mysterious Production of Eggs, Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of....

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