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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Andrew Bird: Soldier On


1) The Trees Were Mistaken; 2) Sic Of Elephants; 3) The Water Jet Cilice; 4) Plasticities; 5) Heretics; 6) Sectionate City; 7) How You Gonna Keep 'Em Down On The Farm; 8) Oh Sister.

A mid-size, near-LP-length EP that Bird put out because... because all respectable artists are sup­posed to release an EP every once in a while? Let us think logically. This EP features: (a) one remix of a previously released tune ('Plasticities'); (b) a demo version of a previously released tune ('Heretics'); (c) a Bob Dylan cover (guess which); (d) a short psycho-Eastern instrumental ('Sectionate City'); (e) a lightly fleshed-out vocal version of an earlier instrumental ('The Water Jet Cilice'); (f) a song that had already been released as a bonus track on the iTunes edition of Arm­chair Apocrypha ('Sic Of Elephants'); (g) a regularly melancholic reading of the old after­war tune 'How You Gonna Keep 'Em Down' from 1918; (h) exactly one fully-fledged, seriously developed new song (the first one).

Ergo, this probably means that he had this song about mistaken trees either as a leftover from the Apocrypha sessions or recorded afresh, and then hastily assembled some local trash around it to justify immediate release. It is to Andrew's honor, of course, that he can hastily assemble thirty minutes worth of outtakes and throwaways that still provide a nice listen.

'The Trees Are Mistaken' are a magnificent creation, to be sure. The drum loops are somewhat generic, but the violin loops are anything but, and, taken together with the whistling, create a uniquely Birdian au­ra of gentlemanly paranoia. Possible interpretations rank in the millions, espe­cially when concentrating on the lyrics, but the basic impression from the song's primary gim­mick — those nagging, droning violins slowly sawing through your brain — will be the same for most people, I think, provided they can stand a little brain-sawing.

'Sic Of Elephants', on the other hand, lacks a distinct hook, unless the worldplay between 'ele­phants' and 'sycophants' can be considered as such. Along with 'Cilice', its strength is in mood and atmosphere, so that it is all the more pleasing that the alternate versions for earlier songs are cho­sen from two of the catchiest tunes on Apocrypha — 'Heretics', in particular, works almost as well in its stripped-down form as it does with the strings-induced bombast.

Still, obviously, this is one more for the fans; the average Joe on the street will not gain an extra pass to Heaven by listening to Andrew Bird covering one of the more morally ambiguous songs of Bob Dylan's career ('Oh Sister' is a Biblical stylization about incest, if you have not noticed; granted, what with Andrew's sweet, sweet arrangement and singing, it would be hard for his sister to refuse his yearnings, I think).

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