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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Andrew Bird: Hands Of Glory


1) Three White Horses; 2) When That Helicopter Comes; 3) Spirograph; 4) Railroad Bill; 5) Something Biblical; 6) If I Needed You; 7) Orpheo; 8) Beyond The Valley Of The Three White Horses.

Two fully formed LPs over the course of one year might be a bit too much even for a wonderboy of Andrew Bird's caliber, so do not expect any big deals from Hands Of Glory, which is basi­cally just a little pony companion to the big white steed of Break It Yourself. It is sparse, mini­malistically produced, very much country-oriented, not entirely self-written, with a subset of co­vers ranging from traditional folk to Townes Van Zandt — definitely not an attempt to win over a new bunch of fans, rather just a small extra Thanksgiving gift for the old ones.

Other than this humble statement of fact, I am not even sure what to say. The textures, moods, vocals, instrumental techniques, everything here has already been commented upon in preceding reviews. The people at Pitchfork tried choosing a general «apocalyptic» angle, indicating that many, if not most, of these songs deal with visions of the end of the world, destruction, redemp­tion, and resurrection, but with Andrew Bird, these themes are actually always on the edge of the knife — his trademark fin-du-siècle melancholy has always been that of a morose guy with a fiddle, sitting on the ravine's edge, waiting for the shit to hit the fan once he finally plays his last note and puts down the instrument. Who cares if now, on a couple of songs, he is adding some words on the same subject to the music? The effect is still the same.

In a way, it almost looks like the first seven songs have all been assembled here just to provide a «conventional» intro to the album's longest, and only «experimental» number — ʽBeyond The Valley Of The Three White Horsesʼ, with a «looped» reference to the album's opening number, throws on some majorly stoned psychedelic thrills, starting off as a completely innocent ins­trumental shuffle, then gradually burrowing its way into a whirly-wobbly tunnel of sound as the violin backgrounds are phased, inverted, mortified, and sucked out into space. The effect can be donwright hallucinogenic in a proper context — problem is, in an unproper context, it can be se­verely irritating instead, and who knows which context you will be hearing it in? For every per­son for whom this «works», there will be another one who will accuse Andrew Bird of «Going Gaga à la Björk», and the world will not have come one step closer to peace and love for all.

Still, the seven «normal» songs, including a scaled-down remake of ʽOrpheo Looks Backʼ from the previous album; a semi-hilarious, semi-sad cover of the traditional country tune ʽRailroad Billʼ that might have been an outtake from Oh! The Grandeur for all I care; and an ominous feedback-meets-fiddle take on The Handsome Family's ʽWhen That Helicopter Comesʼ — these all constitute very pleasant, traditional, entertaining listening for those who dig roots-rock in ge­neral and/or Bird's personal take on it in particular. There is enough professionalism, intelligence, tact, and modest catchiness to even warrant the usual thumbs up. It just happens to be a some­what disinterested thumbs up.

(Besides, it seems that, try as he might, Andrew just won't be able to get the guitar out of business as pop music's leading instrument — somehow, it seems easier to keep on writing interesting guitar-based pop songs than violin-based ones. Maybe the problem is in that these songs aren't really based on the violin — it's fairly hard to get it to serve as a stable rhythmic foundation for this kind of music — and end up being just a collection of delicate lead lines hanging out of nowhere and fading back into nowhere, which doesn't exactly work well for the memorability department. But never mind, just a spontaneous speculation on my part here, really).

Check "Hands Of Glory" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Hands Of Glory" (MP3) on Amazon


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  2. "Going Gaga à la Björk" - can't wait for your reviews of Volta and Biophillia. I used to love Bjork but her last two albums are dripping with the sweat off a donkeys balls due to how much they suck them.