Category: Andrew Bird

Review: Andrew Bird, Break It Yourself

Andrew Bird’s songwriting approach is seemingly paradoxical, at once highly improvisational and long-simmering, with material sometimes taking years to finally gel together. The results are familiar to anyone who’s followed his string of breezily baroque albums over the last decade, full of virtuosic and engaging inter-weavings of melodies and loops spun from violin, whistling, guitar, and Bird’s warbling tenor. While his songs are elegantly crafted and artfully arranged, he’s careful not to lose the sense that music is about creating a space to explore, to wander through and maybe even get lost in. That’s certainly the case with his sixth solo album, Break It Yourself.

Working with his longtime, improv-friendly backing band of Martin Dosh, Jeremy Ylvisaker, and Mike Lewis, Bird recorded Break It Yourself in a loose-knit weeklong session at his barn outside of Chicago, capturing the performances largely live. The approach pays dividends in creating an off-the-cuff atmosphere for songs that have probably been honed and re-imagined frequently, often making Break It Yourself feel as if it’s being created on the spot.

It’s extraordinarily intimate at times, especially given the overarching theme of heartbreak and broken connections that suffuses the album. Which is not to say that Break It Yourself is ever nakedly and painfully personal. That is simply not Bird’s style, and even when his lyrics veer toward the confessional, they’re couched inside oblique and ambivalently calm language. “Lazy Projector” spins out a metaphor on the untrustworthiness of memory as the deliberately crafted fiction of a movie, edited and recast to smooth out the sharp edges of truth, before finally throwing in a direct statement: “I can’t see the sense in us breaking up at all.” From such a normally reserved songwriter, the line explodes like a depth charge.

On “Lusitania,” Bird turns to maritime war history—the ship sinkings that helped launch the U.S. into two wars—for another metaphor on a destroyed relationship, but shifts both mood and metaphor with a gently lilting guest vocal from St. Vincent’s Annie Clark nicely underplaying a verse about the electricity of a new connection. It’s indicative of a beautifully free-flowing set of tunes that soar and waft like a flock of starlings, building to a quietly epic mood that is too ruminative and introspective to suffer from grandiosity.

Originally published March 7, 2012 on Read the complete article.

Review: Various artists, Tradi-Mods Vs. Rockers

When the electrifying, trancelike street music spearheaded by veteran Congolese band Konono No. 1 reached Western ears in the early 2000s, it sounded like something beamed in from Mars. Konono’s music was based around traditional instruments like the likembe thumb piano, but the need to use hand-built, jury-rigged amplifiers to be heard on busy Kinshasa streets brought in heavy, loud distortion that gave Konono a rough, propulsive, hypnotic edge. It sounded weirdly and radically modern—the same kind of thing that forward-thinking punk and electronic musicians like Sonic Youth had been playing around with for years, but approached from an entirely unexpected angle.

The Konono aesthetic has had some time now to filter through Western indie-rock and electronica, and it’s expanded intriguingly on the double-disc compilation Tradi-Mods Vs. Rockers, which opens up the floor to 26 American, British, and German indie bands who rework material from Konono and other Congolese bands, including Kasai Allstars. The results are largely enthralling, and sometimes nearly as revelatory as Konono itself sounded in 2004. Heard in context on Tradi-Mods, for instance, the seamlessly incorporated influence of Konono on Andrew Bird’s electronically processed, looped violin is obvious. The disc is a triumph, and a great example of what a remix album should be: reverent to what made the original material fascinating, but not so much that it can’t fly away in its own unexpected directions.

Originally published Nov. 30, 2010 on Read the complete article.

Interview: Martin Dosh

Martin Dosh has found his widest audience as part of Andrew Bird’s band, but the Minnesota musician’s own work is just as worthy of attention. In May 2008, Dosh released his fourth solo disc, Wolves And Wishes, which follows his now-familiar but certainly not stale method of building up soundscapes through a careful rearrangement of live improvisation with his collaborators—including Bird, Happy Apple saxophonist Michael Lewis, and guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker, who also plays in Bird’s live band. The A.V. Club sat down with Dosh in advance of the CD release.

Originally published on June 16, 2008. Read the complete article.

Review: Dosh, Wolves And Wishes

Even in this age, songwriters relying too heavily on samplers and electronic effects run the risk of creating cold, soulless, boring music that lacks a human touch. That emphatically isn’t a problem for Minneapolis musician Martin Dosh, whose deft touch at manipulating sound seems to grow more organic and appealing with each record, including his fourth solo disc, Wolves And Wishes. Dosh is probably known best as a collaborator of Andrew Bird, whose similar approach to loop-based music led to Dosh joining Bird’s live show and co-writing the 2007 disc Armchair Apocrypha. On Wolves, Dosh gathers a crowd of accomplished improvisers, including Bird, Bonnie “Prince” Billy (who adds an appropriately haunting wail to “Bury The Ghost”), and a bevy of Twin Cities musicians, including Bad Plus drummer David King, guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker, and Happy Apple saxophonist Mike Lewis, who also accompanies Dosh on tour. Dosh breaks up and recombines their contributions to create new, flowing currents of polyrhythmic melody. Largely instrumental, his songs are freed from the shackles of verse-chorus-verse structure, and seem instead to evolve like dreams, always in motion and revealing new surprises at each turn.

Originally published on May 12, 2008. Read the complete article.

Interview: Andrew Bird

Whistler, violinist, and all-around musical polymath Andrew Bird scored his biggest success so far with 2005′s terrific The Mysterious Production Of Eggs, which introduced his offbeat, complex songwriting to a new audience. Shortly afterward, he found a simpatico partner in Minneapolis drummer and loop artist Martin Dosh, who joined Bird on tour and later brought him to Minnesota for the recording of Bird’s follow-up album, the remarkable Armchair Apocrypha. Bird, on tour with Dosh and guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker, recently spoke with The A.V. Club about the new album, the importance of improvising, and the drawbacks of the minor key.

Originally published on March 13, 2007. Read the complete article.

Interview: Martin Dosh

A lot of great musicians immerse themselves in a world of sound, and in Martin Dosh’s case, that’s true on more than one level. In the studio, the Twin Cities drummer and keyboardist, part of the loose-knit Anticon collective, creates intricate collages from looped and recombined audio. Not samples, but music composed by Dosh specifically for the purpose of being reworked later into his aural mosaic. His live setup resembles something NASA would use to control a Mars lander, with Dosh surrounded on all sides by banks of keyboards, effects pedals, samplers, a mixing board, and his drum set. Guests on Dosh’s new The Lost Take include violin-wielding Chicagoan Andrew Bird (Dosh also doubles as Bird’s backing drummer) as well as fellow Minnesotans including Tapes N’ Tapes’ Erik Appelwick, Happy Apple’s Michael Lewis, and Sean McPherson of Heiruspecs. But the sensibility is pure Dosh: graceful, highly textured, warm, even meditative, but with an ever-present and constantly surprising rhythmic flow. The A.V. Club caught up with Dosh a couple of weeks before Lost Take‘s release.

Originally published on Oct. 19, 2006. Read the complete article.

Interview: Andrew Bird: “I hope to get some more chickens and this time keep them alive.”

Andrew Bird hatched onto the national stage as the violinist for Squirrel Nut Zippers during the short-lived 1990s swing trend, but as a solo artist, he’s revealed a rare, remarkable talent that goes far beyond retro kitsch. His 2003 album Weather Systems and last year’s superb The Mysterious Production Of Eggs combined Bird’s vibrant compositional skill with allusive, surreal lyrics and a formidable ability as a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist—not to mention whistler. Live, he’s a veritable one-man orchestra, lacking only a drummer—and he found a great one last year in another polymathic talent, Minnesota-based Martin Dosh. Their instantaneous rapport quickly developed into a full-fledged collaboration and tour. The A.V. Club caught up with Bird recently by phone to talk about his music and what he would do if he got more chickens.

Originally published on Feb. 21, 2006. Read the complete article.

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