Released: March 22, 2019
It’s hard to believe that Andrew Bird has been making records for over twenty years. Only yesterday, it seemed the violin-wielding songsmith was destined to be the ‘next big thing.’ While he saw measured success with releases like 2009’s Noble Beast and 2012’s Break It Yourself, Bird never quite reaped the benefits of the post-Millenium indie-folk explosion—not that he’s ever seemed to mind.
Bird has spent the last decade dutifully producing one reactionary release after another, offsetting inoffensively sleek and polished full-lengths with lo-fi, field-recording-inspired adventures. In fact, one could argue that the mercurial artist has been a bit all over the place. That said, Andrew Bird’s latest album, the not-so-ironically titled My Finest Work Yet, might actually be his best.
Recorded ‘live on the floor’ (without headphones or separation), My Finest Work Yet is a stark departure from the intimate shine of previous releases. And the effect is felt from the start, as the album-opening “Sisyphus” leaps from the speakers with a sense of urgency rarely heard on an Andrew Bird record. Whistling a haunting melody over a sparse arrangement (featuring a perfectly captured drum sound), the song almost feels like a lost b-side from Dylan’s Planet Waves days.
“Bloodless” is yet another about-face for Bird, eschewing his all-too-familiar introspection in favor of an overtly political message (… don’t you envy those who do wrong, and your innocence will be like the dawn, while the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun), while “Olympians” is an anthemic call-to-arms led by an impassioned Bird proclaiming “we’re gonna turn it around” to any and all who will listen. The lush ballad “Cracking Codes” features some of Bird’s most effective string work to date and “Fallorun” is a mid-tempo, stage-ready romp that feels like a crowd sing-along just waiting to happen–and that’s just the first half!
From there, My Finest Work Yet delivers one stunning track after another, with late-album highlights including the riveting “Proxy War” and the toe-tap-inducing “Manifest.” Bird has always been a fantastic vocalist (I’ve always likened him to the Josh Groban of indie rock), but at times, his flawless pitch has threatened to undermine the emotional impact of his material. In that respect, the live feel of My Finest Work Yet works to his advantage, as Bird’s voice has never sounded more impassioned (or anguished).
Bird’s early claim to fame was his virtuosic abilities on the violin (although the man’s no slouch on guitar either). Early attempts to shade his indie-folk with a baroque tinge occasionally felt a bit ham-fisted, but his penchant for sonic exploration helped set him apart from the fray. By dialing back the heavy-handed eclecticism that defines much of his previous output, Bird has delivered what might be his most potent musical statement to date—a wise choice given the poignant subject matter he’s chosen to explore.
With twelve LPs under his belt, a fan consensus for the Bird’s best work is nearly impossible to find, but his latest album is the kind of musical statement that has the potential to transcend his legacy. For an artist recently quoted as saying “total confidence is overrated,” Andrew Bird seems less concerned than ever before with coloring inside the lines. Be it warnings, ruminations, or out-right demands, My Finest Work Yet feels less like something Bird wants to say and more like something he needs the rest of us to hear.