the marvelous mr. bird (the next part)

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Monday, March 27, 2006
(first part here)

When The Swimming Hour came out in 2001, it was a departure from Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire's previous 20's jazz-oriented sound and an enthusiastic two-footed splash into popular music from the entire 20th century. Thank god for splashers, is what I say. Don't get me wrong, I very much enjoyed the first two, but this one... this one is even more dear.

I understand that at the time it came out some fans felt alienated because they thought the new sound was such an about face from the earlier work. I disagree. (I know, I know -- how timely of me to come along 5 years later with the benefit of hindsight to disagree...) It's not so much an about face as an expansion. The band throws their arms wide to all the music they love, and you can tell. It's a much more generous album in a lot of ways. Hearing it in the context of 5 albums (instead of 2), it definitely serves as the breaking away point from the first two records, but it also is what launches him into the weird and wonderful realm he where he currently resides.
Because I can, and because it's on my ipod RIGHT NOW, here's the track listing (with commentary, of course)

1. Two Way Action -- The first 40 seconds are slow and a quiet... and then it just explodes. This whole song (and most on this album) owes a lot to Nora O'Conner's assisting vocals. Anyone who's driven cross country will recognize this part: I've been driving all night/ bathing in flourescent light/ of a western Tennesse gas station
(obviously, your state may vary)

2. Core and Rind -- therapy gone wrong? Write a song! Or listen to the one Andrew Bird has already written: Cause I tell you a story about what happened today/ it was nothing profound just something to say/ and you write a prescription on your notebook pad/ for 5 different ailments I didn't know I had/ Listen, you don't know my mind/ you don't know my mind/ when what you thought was the core/ turned out to be the rind

3. Why? -- the Pitchfork review mentioned that this song would have been fantastic for Billie Holiday, and man, are they right! It's got those crazy vibraphones (I think that's what they are) that I am so nuts about.. and then.. why? why'd you do that?/ you shouldn't have done that/ if I told you once, I told you three times/ that you get your punishment when you show me your crimes/ and it's not a spell or a curse you put on me/ either way you make me smile so tenderly/ how I wish it was a temper you were throwing/ damn you for being so easy going. Anyway, he's got the sexy (high-singer!) mumbler thing going on for sure in this song. and vibraphone!!

4. 11:11 -- This has swoopy violins and one of my favorite little lines -- don't make me chose between rhyme or reason -- something I feel like I am always struggling with.

5. Case in Point -- this song begins with a really lovely violin that sounds like a rainstorm coming, and then abruptly turns into a pop song (as rainstorms will). The lyrics that caught my ear first .. Oh yeah, of course/ you know you can't ride the concept of the horse/ but still I try

6. Too Long -- Allmusic tells me that this is a cover of a song by the Mississippi Sheiks. This would not have sounded out of place on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. (maybe it's the tuba or whatever at the back of it, but I can completely imagine John Turturro doing his crazy yodel dance along to this)

7. Way Out West - this song makes me wish I didn't already live on the west coast so I could jump out of an old hotel that happened to be on fire and skip this town onto a westbound train. Yes it does.

8. Waiting to Talk -- everybody's talking, nobody's listening/ everybody's sweating, nobody's glistening. this sounds sort of like the music that would be playing in the world's coolest carousel.

9. Fatal Flower Garden -- mumbler's paradise! this is apparently a reworking of a traditional Irish Ballad. As such, people die. (which I guess is no surprise considering it is a fatal flower garden.)

10. Satisfied -- this one has the fuzzy loud blues/soul guitars. James Brown would probably do a great job with this song. (I wouldn't expect him to do his own violin playing, though).

11. Headsoak -- this is the song from which the album gets its title, and also gives a glimpse of how he is able to combine sweet music with bizarre and slightly unsettling lyrics: ( I was swimming/ could hardly stand/ the swimming hour was at hand/and the fishes they were feeding/ the lambs they were bleeding) This also showcases some of Andrew Bird's crazy musical whistling (which is fairly limited on this album).

12. How Indiscreet -- Soul! There are horns and backup singers, electric guitar, and that organ. (you know the one)

13. Dear Old Greenland -- words cannot adequately describe how happy this crazy song makes me. It could be the big end production number in one of the cheesy Elvis movies -- I can (and do!) imagine the whole set-up. You know -- where girls in Greenlander costumes (whatever those may be) somehow end up dancing all around Elvis while he sings about the ice fields and tundra. The most fun is when the backup singers sing disparate fragments of my mind/ how fiiiiiine! ha! There is even a talking part! I have yet not to smile when he gets to the "well friends, I tell you what, I'm going there" part. I don't know why, but that's just the way it is.

The Pitchfork Review sums it up best: ...they're one of the only bands out there who have decided to treat the whole past as a single body of work to draw freely from, rather than restricting themselves to an era or a style. In the process, they've come up with a killer batch of songs that add up to a sublimely enjoyable whole. A trove of treasures like this comes by only so often, so snatch this one up while you can. You won't regret it.

I agree!
2 comments on "the marvelous mr. bird (the next part)"
  1. I will have to check out the Sound of mr. bird.

    And I close my eyes and pretend
    I'm on vacation
    But the light bleeds through
    And it's all green-blue
    There goes my imagination

    Green-blue light has me hooked--on the lyrics. I will explore more!
    Bet others will too.

  2. I think you would like this album. He really does have a gift for lyrics that sneak up on you sideways. (my favorite kind!)


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