March is upon us and the albums keep coming. This week features two artists on the opposite ends of the musical spectrum with Andrew Bird and Kaiser Chiefs. Will fans love Bird’s Break it Yourself? Is Kaiser Chiefs’ Start the Revolution Without Me a return to form? Find out after the jump.
Andrew Birdâ€™s seventh album, Break It Yourself, reminds me quite a bit of Terrence Malikâ€™s recent film, The Tree of Life, in that it is composed of very simple elements, but the length at which each individual moment is given such attention and craft, it turns into something bigger, and more beautiful than you are ready to handle. And while not much has changed for Andrew Bird in terms of sonic textures or songwriting direction, itâ€™s hard to find a fault in a master craftsman doing precisely what it is that he does best. And in the case of Break it Yourself, the subtlties reveal themselves slowly, making for an experience that is familar at the surface, but still a treat even to the most critical of Andrew Bird fans.
It would be nice if perhaps there were one song that you could call a lead single on Break It Yourself (or any of his albums, really). But the beauty of Andrew Birdâ€™s albums is that they are composed to demand attention from the listener to notice space and color, which is something that not a lot of indie pop artists give much thought to. All of the songs unfurl, slowly, and delicately, but not without a sense of jammy meandering. Even the powerpop-like â€śEyeoneyeâ€ť (perhaps the one song that could be a contender for a lead single for Break It Yourself, and the source of the albumâ€™s title) presents itself as a display of Andrew Birdâ€™s gift for composition; itâ€™s the only song with a heavy guitar, because itâ€™s the only one where it would be appropriate to use it.
â€śGive it Away,â€ť a progressively structured song that fades in with jaunty plucked violin, a groovy drum beat and a bluegrass play of fiddle, but stops before the first verse, where the song turns into a sort of poppy country tune that ambles its way down a dirt road on a sunny day. The main theme returns for a refrain, this time joined in by a muted lead guitar solo that sound Zappa-like in a few moments, before going back to the theme of the verses.
Elsewhere, the songs change in such a way so that theyâ€™re not complete surprises, but digress into interesting places. â€śDanse Carribeâ€ť starts with folky country, but eventually turns into a Paul Simon â€śGracelandâ€ť-era jam session, with heavy African bass and a loose bass drum that is meaty and full. And even then, the jam comes to a head with some Irish-style fiddlinâ€™ in the middle of this rhythmic jaunty hoe-down.
But the most fascinating of the tracks belongs to the album opener, â€śDesperation Breeds,â€ť which opens a dissonant blast, a softly plucked violin, and a muted chorus of psychedelic mournful moaning. But it moves from there, to an acoustic finger-picked guitar and a folky yearning for peace, before going into a more spacy sonic place where the melodic bass line is key behind the swells of classical violin â€“ though, the virtuosity is kept to a minimum. The overall product is the star here, and this is very reflective, star-gazing type music.
Yet, as true to his style, it all comes from an organic, earthy source. There isnâ€™t anything thatâ€™s shockingly new for Andrew Bird fans, and it may not be a step forward when compared to his other work of late, beloved as theyâ€™ve become. Still, familiarity doesnâ€™t weigh the album down, because Andrew Bird isnâ€™t re-writing the same group of songs over and over like some artists do, but exploring new ways to the same place that happen to be just as interesting.
Kaiser Chiefs sound their most comfortable, and perform to their absolute best when theyâ€™re beating out some speedy pop-friendly, Mod-indebted rock that will get the frat boys chanting along down at the pub. â€śI Predict a Riotâ€ť and â€śRubyâ€ť may not be classics in the eyes of most critics, but anyone whoâ€™s gone to college sometime before or after their immediate release will say that Employment (and to a much lesser extent, the follow up Yours Truly, Angry Mob) is a fine album for its times. While the album may not have matured in any way, the band wants to give you the impression than they have, and that seems to be the frame of mind in which most of Start the Revolution Without Me seems to be in. The result is a messy pastiche of psych-leaning nu-new wave tunes, that merely hint that these songs may have started as nuggets that the band would have been fine with seven years ago, but now seem obsolete when compared to the kind of material that most bands are releasing nowadays.
Start the Revolution Without Me would have been interesting a few years ago, due to itâ€™s much ballyhooed releasing schedule, in which they let fans listen to about 20 tracks recorded on their website, then vote on which 10 deserve to be on the album. The results of which were released last year in the U.K. as The Future is Medieval, with four different songs than the set released in America. Either way, it should, logically speaking, be a fanâ€™s album, and sales may prove that to be the case, if there are any die-hard Kaiser Chief fans left in America to put them back on the map.
But even from a casual fanâ€™s perspective, a lot of whatâ€™s here in Start the Revolution Without Me is far too messy to have any kind of logical progression or climax to make for an exciting album, let alone just a great collection of songs. From the start, â€śLittle Shocksâ€ť establishes that this will be a vaguely experimental affair, with a lot of synthesizers and bizarre sound effects up against a chugging rhythm. Itâ€™s interesting upon first listen, but subsequent listens are less rewarding than one would hope. â€śOn the Runâ€ť keeps up the electro-minded mood, with a deep, buzzy leading bass that doesnâ€™t do much but for make for a lot of noise on album full of noises-sans-purpose.
Even when the chorus has the stuff to make for a vintage Kaiser Chiefs sing-a-long, including a prolonged syllable-stressing shout, it doesnâ€™t prove to be memorable enough to make you look forward to the chorus. â€śHeard it Break,â€ť the third track, is perhaps the patience test for any true fan, where the band trades their lean-but-muscular pub-rock approach for a dubstep-and-synth pop track that just doesnâ€™t do them justice. Thankfully, â€śKind of Girl You Areâ€ť restores the band to doing what they do right, but doesnâ€™t do it any better than the rest of the tracks.
There are three songs where the band seems in their element: â€śKind of Girl You Are;â€ť a bizarre and slow psych-ish â€śChild of the Jago;â€ť and â€śProblem Solved,â€ť which begins with an extended organ introduction that is one of the most interesting experiments on the bandâ€™s part. Album closer, â€śIf You Will Have Meâ€ť ends the whole affair with a song written by the drummer, is a heartfelt acoustic number, but like any song by a drummer, it proves not very good besides being good for a drummerâ€™s song.
The reality is that Start the Revolution Without Me sounds like a collection of songs that, even in an emotionally exciting order, in general arenâ€™t very interesting. Even with a beer in hand, theyâ€™re not very good. But the problem is that theyâ€™re not bad by any stretch of the imagination either. Itâ€™s simply the album released by a band experimenting at the wrong time in their careers, and perhaps showing some ineptitude for it, but still allowing for a few fleeting moments of showing off what they are good at. And for a band who excels at making chug-a-long-and-sing-a-long pub jukebox gold, itâ€™s more of a stumble out the door than an out-and-out fall on their face.