American singer-songwriter, violinist and professional whistler, Andrew Bird, has released his 10th studio album, Are You Serious. The album is one of Bird’s strongest to date and is a beautiful example of what Andrew Bird is musically capable of. Are You Serious also features collaborations from singer-songwriter and classical pianist, Fiona Apple, and Blake Mills on guitar who has previously collaborated with the likes of Conor Oberst and Lana Del Rey.
Andrew Bird has played the violin since the age of four and has named classical music, English folk music, and jazz as some of his largest influences; all of these different genres are evident in the album and make their way individually into different songs throughout.
The album gets off to a steady start, the first track, ‘Capsized’, is a slightly more ‘indie-rock’ than the usual ‘indie-folk’ songs of Bird that sums up just how experimental Andrew Bird can be with his instruments. ‘Capsized’ is a perfect example of him ‘manipulating’ the violin to get a metallic sound that’s similar to an electric guitar. As well as this, influences in folk music can be heard in the beautiful but slightly unsettling single, ‘Roma Fade’, which Bird has previously said is about “the wordless dialogue between the watcher and the watched and the fine line between romance and creepiness.” He explained in a statement that in the song, “she is a fortress of solitude, yet the observer can still affect her with his gaze. Whether the attention is welcome or not, something between them has changed. Notice how the song shifts from the third person to first person near the end and it’s actually the observer who has transformed.”
Fiona Apple and Andrew Bird are the absolute dream collaboration in ‘Left Handed Kisses’, they could easily be compared to a slightly alternative, modern-day Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood. Their unique voices compliment each other perfectly. The song has a slightly country feel to it and could be compared to some of his earlier work on 2003 album Weather Systems and tracks on some of the Fingerlings albums; even so, it’s unlike anything Andrew Bird has done, which says a lot, because he’s done almost everything. In an interview with Stereogum Andrew Bird said “my inclination was to write a song about why I can’t write a simple love song.”
Heavy in whistling, “bom bom boms” and pizzicato, ‘Saint Preservus’ is just about as ‘Andrew Bird’ as a song can get, it’s catchy, heartfelt and lyrically sophisticated. Towards the end of the album Andrew starts channeling The Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth in ‘Valleys of the Young’ when the lyrics, “is it selfish or is it brave?” are repeated at the end of the lo-fi, experimental rock track which, at the same time, successfully holds onto Bird’s signature folky sound.
Overall, Are You Serious is an album of opposites that somehow seem to attract, this creates a strong mix of different songs that fit together flawlessly, although it feels like they shouldn’t. This juxtaposition perfectly sums up Andrew Bird as a musician. Should these songs work so well together? No, probably not. But, Andrew Bird somehow makes it work. If anything, the album ends too soon, it has the ability to hypnotically carry you through an array of magical songs, yet it stops abruptly. Was this purposefully done to create a desired effect on the audience or is there a cryptic meaning behind it? Not only this, Andrew Bird shows us that he is more than just a violin player. Bird once said “I will often times loop my violin to expand the instrument beyond its linear restrictions… I manipulate the instrument to get a wider set of sounds — from double bass to metallic sounds.” This experimentation is noticeable in the album making Are You Serious another exceptional album from Bird and here’s hoping there will be more collaborations with Fiona Apple in the future.