About a third of the way through Andrew Bird’s new album “Break It Yourself” the phone rang and a girlfriend of mine wanted to go and get lunch. Stay with me, this will tie back into a review of the album in a few paragraphs. Ok. So she wants to get lunch and I agree so I tell her “look, I’ve got to review this fucking album” and she says “just listen to it on the way there” so I do, and I’m walking around Greenpoint, and for some reason the album and walking around syncs up. The twee noodling fit Brooklyn perfectly just then and I walked a few blocks to the pseudo-folk spilling out of my headphones like maple syrup, if one could buy maple syrup at Urban Outfitters.
She’s sitting across from me eating a salad and talking about her boyfriend (who I fucking hate) (entirely on principle) and the more she talks the more I just want to put my headphones back on and nod and occasionally throw out a “yeah, I hate it when that happens” or “you should just stop dating him already, I mean, who dates a Todd?”. Perhaps it was just the fact that I was sitting in a cafe in Greenpoint listening to an ex talk about her new boyfriend (who I hate) but something about “Break It Yourself” made me very much want to crawl into the relative safety of the album; a neo-folk dinner-party album if there ever was one—never making enough of a statement to be considered a modern classic but never reaching low enough to be considered mediocre.
So she goes to the bathroom and I slip on my headphones and I’m listening to the album again and the room slows down and syncs up perfectly. Perhaps it was the room. Who knows. All I knows is, occifer, that “Break It Yourself” is the kind of album that slightly affected late-20-somethings can rally around and make the definitive album for all dinner parties well into their ’30s. The “dinner party music” genre is hugely misaligned: people relegate this kind of music to sounding too old to be enjoyed en masse yet too young-sounding to be considered “classic rock.” Like Norah Jones and Paul Simon before him Andrew Bird walks a fine line between the two camps. “Break It Yourself” is the sound of every dinner party in Brooklyn for the next ten years. It’s very well done. The songwriting is excellent. There isn’t, if one was to review this like a normal person, anything wrong with the album. It is background music to be played in the foreground of daily life – a headphone masterpiece.
So she gets back from the bathroom and I’ve got to hear about that fucking Todd guy again and we sit there for an hour longer than we’re supposed to, just shooting the shit back and forth, and now I’ve got the song ‘Sifters’ in my head, an early version of which you can listen to here:
And I’m still talking to her about Todd. And I hate Todd. But somehow “Sifters” makes it manageable. I used to hate Andrew Bird for the sole reason that I disliked someone that liked him, which is a terrible way to live and an even worse thing for anyone who is supposed to have an open mind about music for a profession. But Andrew Bird cancelled out Todd, and finally, I could just listen to her talk. We split the check and I walk her to the train and all the while I’m confused as to whether I should just bust out my headphones and make us listen to the album – because it’s that good, y’know – it’s one of the most relaxed yet taut sounding albums I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. So she gets to the train and says “I’ve got to go” and that’s it, and then I immediately put my headphones back on and get back to where I was on the album.
It’s like a good book. It’s like a great book, actually, the kind where you really just want to keep reading and don’t want to end. I’m aware this is probably the most emo album review of all time but the album IS like that. This is Andrew’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”, his “Graceland”, if you will, the kind of release that will define him as an artist yet also define much of the movements that you or I will go through. It is much less an album than a soundtrack to an entirely pleasant dinner; the kind of thing that holds back enough to let you have conversation and hold court yet never overpowering.
By the time “Hole On The Ocean Floor” rolls around and you’re into the final twelve minutes you’re already looking at things a little differently, wondering when the next time you’ll be lucky enough to hear this album for the first time again. Don’t miss this. It isn’t a loud punk opera, nor is it the second coming of Jeff Buckley’s “Grace”, yet this is one of the more nuanced releases of the year so far. As the final track, the wonderful “Belles” rolls through your headphones, it takes you back to where you started an hour ago. It’s a fantastic album, and well worth your time. A true win.