By Devon Hannan, Features Editor
[Loma Vista; 2016]
Key Tracks: “Roma Fade,” “Left Handed Kisses,” “Valleys of the Young”
Yeah, we’re serious — Andrew Bird’s newest full length album features some of his most intensive songwriting yet. As what may be seen as a loss by some, in regards to less unhinged instrumentation, Are You Serious makes up for in unadorned and fluid lyricism. Transparency, alongside humor and truth makes Are You Serious one of his most stripped-down releases yet.
The album busts through the door with opener “Capsized,” an Armchair Apocrypha-like track. The initial feel for the album is fairly fast paced with a touch of Latin dance style music in tracks like “Roma Fade.” The album immediately hits all of the points of a solid Andrew Bird album: whistling, twinkly plucking, and exceptional violin vibratos. While Are You Serious begins with a bold, pop-like structure it doesn’t carry from cover to cover.
“Chemical Switches” tones down the pop vibe and many proceeding tracks follow suit. Bird’s choice to reach again for his original acoustic sound makes the record’s lyrical strengths much clearer to the audience. Without additive experimentation, honesty is abundant as Bird reflects his recent journey into marriage and fatherhood.
Are You Serious features a few killer, instrumentally strong tracks, however its focus is primarily on Bird’s lyrical talent. Many listeners are going to miss those weird, experimental multi-instrumental incorporations, and while the album isn’t absent of them completely, Bird’s sound is much softer than ever before. It may be safe to say that Bird’s days of unconventional, radical indie-folk are over, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
One of the other highlights of the album, “Left Handed Kisses,” is a simple, yet very well written track featuring Fiona Apple. Fiona’s line, “The point your song here misses is that if you really loved me / You’d risk more than a few 50 cent words in your backhanded love song,” carries a more crippling delivery than any other track in its entirety. The pair’s back and forth banter begs to be heard between drawn out bells and banging strings.
“Valleys of the Young” features feel-good percussion that could leave just about anyone feeling a little bit lighter than before they sat down to listen to it. This then leads into the final track, “Bellevue.” The short, point-blank love song perfectly wraps up Are You Serious as a whole. The final line, “I think I’ve found someone,” references what Bird’s life has been about since his last full length studio album.
Are You Serious is a carefully-crafted dip into Andrew Bird’s lyrical creativity. Nothing new is on the table for Bird’s latest release other than songwriting technique and lyrical content, but he employs both of these things with plenty of ingenuity.