Andrew Bird – Are You Serious
It may be four years since Hands of Glory, but in between times Andrew Bird has been plenty busy. There was last year’s instrumental experiment, the fine set of Handsome Family covers from a couple of years ago, as well as the Pulaski at Night project from 2013, the title track from which, or at least a version of it, is included in some editions of his new album. And while even four years is a time too short to make a world-without-end bargain in, he’s also gone and got married and had a child in the meantime. It’s enough to drive almost anyone to distraction and certainly exhaustion, but there’s little sign of either here. There’s plenty of polyrhythmic pizzicato and postdoctoral prolixity that’s the hallmark of the native Illinoisian. “Used to be so wilfully obtuse, Or is the word abstruse?,” he asks, “Semantics like a noose, Get out your dictionaries”. But there are new elements too. The opening track, ‘Capsized’, sounds like it could have been written and performed by a different artist altogether. It’s a 70s-style, slightly snarly rocker that scarcely befits the man who by popular acclamation is second only to John Vanderslice as the nicest man in indiedom. There’s also ‘Left-Hand Kisses’, which is a duet with Fiona Apple. Think of it as the theme song from The Platonic Affair. While it’s always interesting to hear a musician out of their traditional comfort zone, and these tracks are no exception, perhaps the best songs from Are You Serious are the ones that build on Andrew Bird’s traditional musical strengths and at the same time mix in some of his recent life-changing experiences. ‘Valleys of the Young’ is perhaps the most fully realised achievement in this regard. With an orchestration that’s reminiscent of his work on Armchair Apocrypha, the music swells and soars. And the lyrics also more than hint at the anxieties of his new-found fatherhood. “From their cradle to our grave, Is it selfish, or is it brave?”. It’s life. And all’s well. Just like Are You Serious.