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Andrew Bird
Are You Serious Jeremy Allen , April 5th, 2016 19:33

It's probably fair to say that you usually know what you're getting with a new Andrew Bird release. Are You Serious bears the hallmarks of a great Bird album, offering swathes of melody and counterpoints, dexterous violin theatrics, cerebral lyrical prowess and delightful turns of phrase, and if that weren't enough, there's the usual vertiginous whistling too. What differentiates this album from previous offerings though, is a newfound sturdiness, with more dependence on the rhythm section than ever before.

First single and album opener 'Capsized' is a fine indicator of what's to come, coming on more like a 70s cop show than anything he's recorded before - and dare we say it - it swaggers like some snake-hipped swinger on the prowl. As a newly - and one presumes - happily married man, the swinger tag could be somewhat misleading. If it doesn't sound like the Andrew Bird you know, then the added frisson is better than it sounds. Maybe conjugal felicity has unleashed a new freedom in his music and a girding of the loins?

'Roma Fade' certainly has a traditional swing to it, married to a rhythm that makes it almost Eurobeat. Again, it's a peculiar marriage but it somehow works. Modernising one's schtick for the sake of it can be detrimental, but thankfully Bird is too intuitive as a musician to allow things to ever come off as gimcrack or gauche. 'Truth Lies Low' has a groove that could almost be hip-hop, though he's sensible enough to make that covert rather than overt. It's a volatile mix he attempts here, and pushing his own boundaries, it has paid off handsomely.

Elsewhere there are flights of fancy that don't require such attentiveness from the drummer. The title track winks cheekily in the direction of Cat Stevens' 'Wild World', and 'Left Hand Kisses' with Fiona Apple is a country song that's so tantilising in chemistry and sure footedness that it's less a song, more an event that everyone should visit at least once. In the same way that 'Lusitania' with St. Vincent was one of the highlights on the last release proper, so this duet is one of the standout highlights, and Bird would do well to consider making an album of such collaborations one day in the future. 'Saints Preservus' meanwhile, switches delightfully from melodious meanderings down bottomless passages, to cantering choruses of abandon.

'The New St Jude' adds more gravitas to the claim that Bird is the new Paul Simon (not that the first Simon is going anywhere soon one hopes). It has the same rhythmical cadences as the latter section of 'Dance Caribe' from Break It Yourself, and on this update he sings "ever since I gave up hope/I've been feeling so much better". Laid-back philosophies punctuate this album, which again suggests a kind of bemused contentedness with life. There's nothing too highfaluting or over-stretching, though musings are thought-provoking enough. "I don't believe everything happens for a reason," he sings on the aforementioned Apple collaboration. On the title track he decides to push the boat out with the amusing stanza, "You used to be so wilfully obtuse/Or is the word abstruse?/Semantics like a noose/Get out your dictionaries." It's a moment of rare ostentation on an album that's lyrically more relaxed than maybe efforts in the past have been. Bird seems to have found some kind of romantic parity, and thankfully there appears to be no side effects. Are You Serious is a celebration of sorts, and why not mark a special moment in one's life with something this abundant with musical joy?

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