ANDREW BIRD – ” My Finest Work Yet “

Posted: March 22, 2019 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Illinois songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird is back with his 12th solo album “My Finest Work Yet”, and it might actually live up to its name. These 10 new tracks find Bird doubling down on the heady folk storytelling that we’ve come to expect from him, but in a way that feels more immediate and of the moment than ever before.

Ambiguity, like virtuosic whistling and erudite lyrics, is a hallmark of Andrew Bird’s music, but it’s seemingly absent from the title of his latest album, On which the multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter has dubbed “My Finest Work Yet”. The other superlative in the discussion around the 10-track album, is that it’s Bird’s most political or topical work to date, thanks in part to the Lake Forest native being forthcoming about the real-life events that informed tracks like “Bloodless.” But My Finest Work Yet travels further back than the 2016 election,

In addition to raising the question of whether this is his finest work yet, the conversation around the album has also been about it being maybe his most political work to date. My Finest Work Yet certainly explores a lot of divisions in this country.

There are all these songs that have made it across airways that are dealing with anything that’s going on now these are troubled times, And I think what better medium than songwriting to go in deep and figure out what’s really going on and maybe offer suggestions of how to get out of it. So a lot of the songs, from “Archipelago”, “Fallorun” to “Bloodless” they’re dealing with this deal that’s been made that we’re somewhat unwittingly being played by these people that are profiting through algorithms and whatnot on this division, and just amplifying it. And the more they amplify it, the more they seem to benefit from it. It’s just taking things that have always been there, and exploiting them, and making them worse for profit. It has to do with a certain aspect of human nature that’s been around for eons. But it’s just that attraction one has to their enemies—what space, what void in us is being filled by our adversaries? And how that gets our horns locked and we can’t pull them out. And it’s that sort of intimacy, that need that’s being filled by your adversary. What would happen if you just walked away? They’d probably really miss you, you know?

AB: Yeah, I kind of stumbled on that word, “Fallorun.” I kind of ran the two together. I was going through, like, five different possible choruses that were all way too heavy-handed, I think. “Fall of throne.” And then my wife thought I was saying “fall or run,” instead of “Fallorun” And I thought, “That’s actually better than ‘fall of throne.’” And so it is talking about that fight-or-flight instinct. And it’s just sort of addressing that, “What is patriotism?” And the verse is, beyond those first couple lines, “What if Trump were not human, he was just an algorithm that takes all our worst impulses as people and amplifies them and exploits them, turns them on us?” That’s effectively what we’re dealing with. It’s just almost a reflection of ourselves in a way.

“Manifest” is the latest song to be released off the album. AB: Yeah, I guess I was thinking about fossil fuels—just that term is kind of interesting in how it points out that what we pull out of the ground and put into a combustible engine is the result of millions of years of plants and animals dying and being compressed underground and being fossilized. But I also wanted to look at the afterlife for those organic things. There’s still energy contained in that organic matter, and that’s what we’re doing, is spending the last bit of energy of that life form. And from there it becomes vapor, so it’s almost like the ghost of that thing. There’s a certain poetry to all that, as frightening as it is. So that’s mostly what it’s about.

The first line is like, “Coming to the edge of the widest canyon.” I was imagining the Spanish explorers coming to the edge of the Grand Canyon, and in that moment thinking, “Whoa, we just got to the end of it all.” That’s how the song kind of started, but the chorus is talking about the tendrils, the fracking, these things going deep into the ground to find every little bit of fossilized fuel. The video that’s out at the moment is just us in the studio, but there’s an official video coming out in, like, a week and a half that’s an animated thing that kind

“Cracking Codes” feels like one of the “bread and roses” moments on the albums; it’s more personal, AB: Yeah, it sounds more like a love song than anything else on the record. The chorus is about either telling the truth, or just being able to tell if someone is being true—that search for truth relates to everything else on the album. And through it I’m just talking about how even without words two people can, through body language or just even atmosphere that one creates with energy, that you can just tell if someone is really who they say they are. ’Cause it’s quite straightforward. I wrote that song very quickly, and so it hangs together better than anything I’ve written in a long time.

How would you come to realize this is your finest work yet? You have an extensive discography, which means you have a lot to compare. Is it kind of just like a gut feeling in the middle of the night after finishing recording.

Having such an extensive discography makes me saying something like that about myself more okay,

AB: I really liked “Inside Problems,” but that didn’t really make sense for these songs. I was really trying to convey this idea of horns being locked, of a struggle of two wrestlers just starting to make out or something. Two people or sides, just so close and so intimate, yet locked in the struggle. And I couldn’t figure out a way to do that without it being just too much. So I gave up on trying to encapsulate the whole record with a few words, and that process just seemed kind of silly on record No. 14 anyway. So I just went with this somewhat tongue-in-cheek statement.

But that being said, these songs on the album do feel different to me. There was an urgency in the writing of them that felt different, like I had a purpose even though I was still kind of doing what I was always do, which is pay attention to what’s around me and process it.

These songs make up this kind of path to war, from trying to avoid it on “Fallorun” to spouting propaganda on “Proxy War,” and then there’s a call to “Don The Struggle.” Is the album closer, “Bellevue Bridge Club,” intended to bring an end to the conflict?. That song, I’ve been writing for a long time, five or six years. It went through so many versions. As opposed to “Cracking Codes,” which took a half an hour, this one took years. And eventually I scrapped everything in the song except this line, “We’ll be playing bridge in the psych ward with Barbara, Jean, and Sue.” I had the hardest time working backwards and figuring out what makes that line make sense. All I knew is that that was the best line in the song. The original idea was someone coming home from the Great War and seeing horrible things and just wanting to have a boring life, or in this case, suffering, or recovering from shell shock in the psych ward just playing bridge, and wanting to live in a small town.

Something that’s been happening on the last couple records is that I embrace the second voice that enters in my head as I’m writing a song, the one that’s a bit critical of the song. I think it’s a refreshing thing, and usually people don’t choose to put their own self-doubt in the song, they usually try to block that voice out. But I kind of like to embrace ’cause it gives us a break from the first-person narrative that you’re listening to through most of the record. And so that’s where that line comes from.

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