ANDREW BIRD: HANDS OF GLORY (2012)
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" (MP3) on Amazon