While performing an incomplete version of what would become “Eyeoneye,” Andrew Bird remarked to the TED audience, “Songwriters can sort of get away with murder. You can throw out crazy theories and not have to back it up with data or graphs or research.” Although Bird only occasionally touches in the theories of the absurd, he would not need an alibi to get away with his sixth studio album Break it Yourself.
In the TED speech and in music as well Bird has become a master of addressing his audience. Much of the power within Break it Yourself is based on how he speaks to the listener, and the message that he delivers is made all the more significant because he knows how to take the listener wherever he would like.
What makes Break it Yourself so powerful is the strength in making music that feels personal. This is not simply an interaction between the musician and some far off idea or some other individual; throughout the album, you feel as if you are the agent around which his songs revolve. Through making an album that feels to its very core personal, Bird can make the most relatable of human emotions more significant and engaging for the listener.
The agent of the nostalgia that Bird will reflect on in songs like “Danse Caribe” exemplifies how he can turn the metaphorical camera on the audience away from him. When singing, “You were a shameless child…” he clearly focuses on the listener as the agent, not himself. In doing this early in the album there is always this feeling of intimacy in the songs. Although he does not intend to tell the story of the listener, it is hard to come away from the song without having recalled your own childhood.
This is accompanied by the fact that Bird has become an expert at the craft of conveying emotion through instrumentals. Controlling tones, pace, and precise layers of construction, Bird is able to guide the song exactly where he always intended. This on top of his prowess as a personal yet fictional storyteller makes the message of the songs take on more meaning.
It is the realm of relationships where this craft of making songs feel personal and sincere shines the brightest. In “Eyeoneye” Bird says that when we try to get back to the realm of fixation on oneself we become the agents of our own destruction. And although this does seem a bit hokey in many respects, Bird makes it feel natural. He takes the listener through this journey that describes “you” as someone who has become intensely fixated on attempting to fix “yourself” that it took “you” way too long to eventually recognize that “you” need help. It is the most personal of relationships: the relationship we have with ourselves.
Bird moves this focus onto the relationships people have with one another, onto the “you and I” aspect. This makes you feel as if you are the agent in the song with Bird and reemphasizes the personal nature of the entire album.
In “Lazy Projector” Bird shows how this feeling can be grounded in the reality of relationships, particularly their sometimes-ugly aftermath. The theme of the song revolving around how we become the editors of our own stories, especially in hindsight of what happened. As a coping mechanism we skew the sense of what actually happened with our own story, and in frustration Bird sings, “I can’t see the sense in us breaking up at all.”
“Sifters” provides one of the most powerful moments in the entire album when Bird takes this personal interaction between two individuals and speculates, “What if?” Bird sings, “What if we hadn’t been born at the same time? Would you tell me all the stories from when you were young and in your prime?” This scratches the surface of what becomes a beautiful and touching moment in the record and certainly not one to be forgotten.
The album finishes with that feeling left over. This is simply not an album that will be forgotten. Its personal and relatable nature, masterful instruments, paces, and imagery makes Break it Yourself one of the best albums of the year.