Pro tip for Andrew Bird fans hearing Break It Yourself for the first time: Clear away any and all distractions, listen on headphones and let its subtle charms sink in slowly. Early mornings or late nights work best. This isn't a record for chaotic commutes or busy offices — these are songs of quiet contemplation, performed by a classically trained artist who sounds unmistakably confident in his craft, yet more muted than usual.
As whimsical as Bird can be — even here, he's still one to whistle where other musicians might employ guitar solos — Break It Yourself has a brooding quality that's miles from the playfully jittery hot jazz of his Bowl of Fire days. Even the comparatively lilting "Near Death Experience Experience," with a hook straight out of Fastball's 1998 hit "The Way," finds Bird wanting to "dance like cancer survivors, like the prognosis was that you should have died." There's real heavy-heartedness at work here: Bird still turns an impeccable phrase, but his gift for flashy wordplay is toned down considerably.
Cumulatively, when employed as background noise, Break It Yourself (out March 6) can seem uneventful, even sleepy. But listen closely to lustrous, uncommonly delicate ballads like "Sifters" and the eight-minute "Hole in the Ocean Floor," and the washed-out colors start to shine. Coming from an artist who's become a model of sunny consistency over the course of a dozen albums — with a zillion fans who've only grown more intense in recent years — Break It Yourself is a quiet, careful grower. Give it time, though, and it blooms into something beautiful.
Break It Yourself will be available to stream on demand from Monday, February 27 through March 6, 2012. The album will be released on March 6.