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Andrew Bird - My Finest Work Yet Music Album Reviews

After a string of releases that sometimes felt like hearing Bird think himself in circles, the singer-songwriter relaxes into his most plainly and darkly funny album in a long time.

Andrew Bird’s work the past decade has scrutinized on the link between sound and time. He made an acoustic album in a barn; he recorded an instrumental album at the bottom of a canyon, and then another while standing in a river; he toured for years with gigantic spinning gramophone horns; he turned a single song into a seven-track EP by treating it like a film score; he made an actual film score. Along the way, Bird’s image started drifting away from playful fiction-spinner and toward haggard philosopher: sometimes isolating and difficult to follow, always interesting. Around the time that he jolted into a 7/8 breakdown on a sprawling, sorrowful song about physically mutating from tour-life conditions called “Anonanimal,” the Andrew Bird who once promised snacks at the end of civilization was becoming a fading memory.

That irreverent, contentedly existential side of Bird makes a pleasantly surprising return on My Finest Work Yet, his most plainly and darkly funny album in a long time. While its cover art depicts Bird swapped into Jacques-Louis David’s “The Death of Marat,” its music is more Monty Python’s Life of Brian: consumed with human history and equally ready to poke fun at it. It sounds eerily informed by “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” right down to its undermining of doom with whistling: “The Earth spins faster, whistles right past ya / Whispers death in your ear / Don’t pretend you can’t hear,” Bird casually drops on “Manifest,” just before offering another of his signature whistling solos. After a string of releases that sometimes felt like hearing Bird think himself in circles, the philosophy professor drops the chalk mid-proof, turns to the class, and cheerily concludes, “We’re all screwed!”

Even those who tend to tune out lyrics can recognize a reinstated directness in Bird’s composing, whether in the ambush of violins on“Manifest”, the straighforwardly beautiful ballad “Cracking Codes,” or the unrestrained “OH”s that hoist up “Olympians.” There are a few filler moments that would fit on any other Bird album—”Fallorun” in particular falls flat—but the rest feel like they share a common attitude of “Why not?”. “Don the Struggle” actually brings back the 7/8 dance breakdown, but this time to serve as a foil to the song’s “Benny and the Jets” stomp. The flip is as clear as Bird’s shrug when he repeats over and over, “We’re all just stumbling down / Through an unnamed struggling town.”

Bird knows how to deploy specificity so suddenly and casually that it tickles—and then how to complicate that reaction. Lines here about J. Edgar Hoover, the Spanish Civil War, and Sisyphus all feel more intended to incite chuckling than chin-stroking. On the latter, which is also the name of the opening track and lead single, he questions the condemned Greek king’s dilemma: “Did he raise both fists and say, ‘To hell with this,’ and just / Let the rock roll?” That image seems more than a little self-referential in light of Bird’s obsessive style of music-making. Here, he takes a moment to set that boulder down, throw his hands up, and grin at the beautiful futility of it all.

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