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What I’m listening to this week: Andrew Bird

June 29, 2009

Weather Systems – 2003

Andrew Bird is a whole lot smarter than most people.  A violin virtuoso with a supernatural whistling ability, Bird also plays numerous other instruments, is a whiz at mixing layers of sound into perfect harmony, and manages to throw in some of the most interesting lyrics you’ll find anywhere.  Weather Systems marked Bird’s first true attempt at a solo record and the beginning of a new sound which would bring him accolades just a handful of years later.

This album is where Bird first expanded the sounds he can extract from his violin, employing it for finger-picking, strumming it like a guitar, and distorting it with amps.  Weather Systems also found Bird relying more on his incredible whistling talent as a instrumental device and that’s immediately apparent from the first track, “First Song”.  It leads off the album with a 30 second whistled introduction, segueing into a lazy, rolling plucked violin and is every bit a storyteller’s song, right up to the point where the vocals are spoken.  It’s a dramatic contrast to the second track, “I” (which would later become “Imitosis” on Armchair Apocrypha).  “I” is creepy and resonant, with Bird’s voice ringing hollow with the proper drone to match to musical track of highly altered prolonged violin hums.

“Lull” is indie leaning with self-consciously confessional lyrics to match, but Bird is neurotic enough to make it charming.  “Action Adventure” is one of Bird’s best songs, and a great example of when he’s at his best.  It’s whimsical, there’s a definitive ebb and flow throughout the track, propelled equally by the music and the vocals, and the violin is completely dream-like, perfect for a soundtrack, even if it’s only in your head.  The title track, “Weather Systems”, is another Bird archetype; a brilliant mosaic of a song, more a complex classical composition with lyrics than a pop or indie song, that veers into several distinct musical sections.  “Don’t Be Scared” finds the album ending on a sentimental note, in a very unconventional song structure, followed by the untitled musical outro that fully carries out the theme of “Don’t Be Scared”.

I saw Andrew Bird live at the Paramount Theatre earlier this year where he performed an entire set completely solo, and at times, there was more sound coming from that stage then I’ve heard from a whole band.  Bird achieves this feat with an intricate system of microphones tuned for different purposes, multiple looping pedals, and some enormous spinning XL horn speakers that were designed specifically for him to make other-worldly sounds (check them out here and check out video of Andrew with the horns here).  He’s just an extraordinary guy whose talent knows no bounds and that has allowed him to carve out this quirky corner of orchestral pop music that no one else can touch.  Start with Weather Systems and know that Andrew Bird’s solo albums get even better from here.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Zeke permalink*
    July 1, 2009 4:04 pm

    I saw him at the Paramount, too. He was amazing! When his opening act broke down their set and we started realizing Andrew was going on solo, my lovely date and I exchanged our “what the eff” looks only to be BLOWN AWAY by his performance. Watching him play is at least half of the entertainment! Nice review of a great album, Austin Girl!

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