June 04, 2003

Andrew Bird "Weather Systems"

Andrew Bird has some nerve, quietly releasing one of the best records I've heard this year, as well as the best record of his career on a tiny Minnesota label. Okay, okay, I'm not complaining that much, because there's nothing here worth complaining about, which is rare for this type of project. (For the record, this version on Grimsey is a limited-edition early version of the album, which shall be released in a more widely-available format on Ani Difranco's Righteous Babe label next month.)

His last album, The Swimming Hour--recorded with his backing group, Bowl of Fire--was one of the best records of 2001. It was a fun, pop-filled treat, and it certainly proved that Bird could out Odelay! Mr. Beck Hansen. In short, it was a wonderful jewel of a release that was certainly worth its weight in hype. But times change, and Bird left Ryko, his record label, not long after the album's releases. Did that put the kibosh on the growing reputation of Andrew Bird? Probably, but then again, he's been a busy man, working as a session musician, most recently having turned up on Kristin Hersh's solo album The Grotto.

I'll admit that I was a little nervous about what Weather Systems would be like. I'd read that it is a solo record, in the truest sense of the word; that it was a bit more earthy, lo-fi, and mellower; the fact that it sounded radically different to his past records could be shown by the fact that it's not billed as "..Bowl of Fire." While there's a little bit of truth in each one of those statements, they really should be taken with a heapin' helpin' of salt, because Weather Systems is a wonderful album despite the comparisons to his previous work.

For a "solo" record, Weather Systems sure does sound like a full-band effort. I feared there wouldn't be a song as wonderful as "Two Way Action," but there was no reason to worry, as Bird hasn't messed with his Bowl of Fire formula. He's joined by Mark Nevers, Kevin O'Donnel and Nora O'Connor, but really, it's all about Andrew Bird here, and the music, while sedate, sure does sound like a proper Bowl of Fire release. Certain things are true with Bird--wonderfully quirky music that involves a string section, hip, pop-culture refrencing lyrics, all sung in a style that's very Beck-with-an-English-degree meets Thom Yorke-on-prozac--a sound that even Eef Barzelay would envy.

Perhaps the most annoying thing about Weather Systems is that it's brief--very brief; six songs and three instrumentals doth not a satisfying full-length album make--especially when the appetite's whetted for more! Thirty-four minutes of this kind of music is not filling at all. Oh well, 'tis better to have a brief Andrew Bird record than none at all, and when the songs are as brilliantly clever as "Lull" and "Action/Adventure," you'll be too busy hitting 'repeat' to mind!

Andrew Bird is a talent whose star is clearly on the rise, and no matter the quibblesome flaws of its length, Weather Systems is a record that only helps Bird's reputation. It's an amazing record that will give you one of the best little listening experiences you'll have this year. Go get you an espresso, invite some friends over, fix some drinks, have some snacks, put this record on the stereo, and you'll have a wonderful evening. Welcome back, Andrew!

(The Grimsey version, released a few weeks before the official Righteous Babe version, comes in a wonderful letterpressed packaging courtesy of the wonderful folk at Starshaped Press. Yummy!)

--Joseph Kyle

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