Prolific ‘renaissance man’ returns with a collection of deceptively intricate pieces that bely a darker underbelly
If ever the term ‘renaissance man’ was looking for a human representative, Andrew Bird would be an excellent candidate. Soundtrack composer, singer-songwriter, actor, violinist, TED talk host and inveterate whistler are just some of the strings to his prolific bow. There over 20 releases to choose from, ranging from whip-smart wry chamber pop, field recordings, ethereal artiste to last year’s blues and folk collaboration (These 13) with Jimbo Mathus.
Inside Problems was recorded live with his four-piece band, which gives a visceral hum and a jaunty skip in the step to these pieces. The cursory listener may take in the swish and swoon of insouciant mid-Atlantic vocals over seemingly easygoing musical settings, but they are deceptively intricate pieces belying a darker underbelly. The tunes, albeit couched in clipped pop with jazzy idioms are full of ideas looking to challenge stasis with the urge for movement and change flooding through these pieces.
Bird here is keen to look at the dividing line between what constitutes ‘inside’ (internal) problems versus the exterior forces creating their own havoc. Exploring the human liminal spaces between moments of doing/not doing, sleep/wakefulness where the world is not yet defined into one thing or another.
Underlands begins with a swish of drums that almost demand some finger-snapping before it canters off into lyrics of self-dismantling with a giddy glee. Fixed Positions’ acoustic balm couches darker urges to fight change (promise to resist until you die, when your position is fixed results can be mixed). The Bob Dylan-esque title track reconfirms the feeling of ‘moulting’ your problems away, leading to the euphoric declamation of “I just got born!” The Night Before Your Birthday starts like a Lou Reed talking-blues full of mono-strumming before unpeeling into a brighter pop coat.
Bird maintains that wry detachment of David Byrne, Father John Misty or even Neil Hannon’s The Divine Comedy in his observations; seemingly unhindered by notions of appearing cool. He has the skills to whisk up a symphonic mini-orchestrations to weave enchanting webs that enervate and stimulate the ear into areas familiar, yet worthy of a second listen. The only problem with Inside Problems is that it’s possibly too arch and mannered to appeal much beyond those familiar with Bird-lore.