ANDREW BIRD: ECHOLOCATIONS: CANYON (2015)
1) Sweep The Field; 2) Groping The Dark; 3) Rising Water; 4) Antrozous; 5) The Return Of Yawny; 6) Before The Germans Came; 7) The Canyon Wants To Hear C Sharp.
In 2015, Andrew Bird packed his violin and some recording equipment, travelled all the way to the Coyote Gulch canyons in Utah, and conducted a serious scientific experiment to answer the question: "If one plays a violin inside a canyon, will there be an echo?" The results would not only be self-sufficient on their own, but would also function as a part of an installation (of course) presented at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art for three months, during which any Bostoner unable to scrape up the money for a ticket to Utah could come visit and experience what it would be like if you had to spend fifty minutes in a canyon, playing your violin.
Needless to say, we here at Only Solitaire immediately had to alert the trusty Bullshit Patrol; but, either out of sheer respect for the hitherto illustrious career of Mr. Bird, or for some deeper reason, perhaps, the Patrol refused to make an arrest, stating that, although the album is definitely experimental, it is (a) eminently listenable and (b) experimental in the good sense of the word, as in, «somebody who is genuinely searching for new sounds in hopes of tapping into some hitherto unexplored corner of one's emotions». Nobody can insist that the tapping actually took place, but the attempt is at least curious, and at most — pleasant.
Obviously, this is an ambient-minimalist record, with Andrew Bird presenting himself as the Brian Eno of the violin, using it as an impressionist tool while various nature sounds (wind and water, mostly — apparently, there's nothing like an Andrew Bird violin melody to scare all the actual coyotes away) are reverberating in the background. But it is not particularly dissonant, and the things he plays are, in fact, quite diverse — ranging from deconstructed elements of some baroque violin partita (ʽSweep The Fieldʼ, which begins that way and then turns into more of a modern classical piece for violin and whistle) to loops of pretty flourishes without a cause (ʽGroping The Darkʼ) to attempts at emulating an Indian, sitar-like sound with the violin (ʽAntrozousʼ). ʽBefore The Germans Cameʼ, despite the title, sounds like the man's tribute to Bach; and while I am not positively sure if ʽThe Canyon Wants To Hear C Sharpʼ, not being in any way related to the canyon or anything, that last composition gives the impression of somebody trying to play a serious blues jam on solo violin, with more Eastern elements woven in for good measure.
Therefore, to avoid falling into the iron hands of the Bullshit Patrol, you'd probably be better off forgetting about the general setting of the recording — honestly, most of the time you'd have no idea that this was not recorded in a studio, and who really cares? — and just view this as a set of experimental violin pieces played by somebody who actually understands what he's doing. As an ambient record, the violin and particularly Bird's individualistic manner of playing it make it a somewhat unique experience, and somehow it still manages to remain permeated with his lonely, melancholic spirit. Well, as Jimi said, "If the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art fell in the sea — let it be, it ain't me, 'cos Andrew Bird got his own world to look through, and at least he ain't gonna copy Vanessa Mae". And since I'm in no position to disagree with Jimi, the worst I can do is not give this record a thumbs up, because I honestly did not enjoy it that much — and besides, it's only the first one in an announced series that promises to bring you even more of those «echolocations» before the industry runs out of violin strings (including Rivers, Cities, Dungeons, Dragons, and Donald Trump's Esophagus), so I'm saving up on thumbs in advance. But it's got mood-setting potential, all right, and it is Andrew Bird, after all: one of the few modern musicians with near-impeccable taste, whether you hate it or love it.