Over the course of eight studio albums and nearly as many sets of live tracks and ephemera, Andrew Bird has never been known for his ability to relax. But on 2009′s Noble Beast, the preternaturally talented musician began to let his coiled songwriting unwind, with music that was more concerned with chasing melodic ideas than hitting a grand chorus. Break It Yourself breathes even deeper: Recorded with minimal overdubs in Bird’s Illinois barn, it’s full of occasionally jam-driven acoustic songs played with all the urgency of a back-porch nap in mid July.
Not that the songs came easy: The album arrives after months of woodshedding, including a handful of hasty performances in the artist-friendly confines of L.A.’s Largo. The result is a set that feels warm and lived-in, if not Bird’s most instantly memorable. At an hour long, it was made for settling into, hearth crackling and glass of wine in hand, as Bird shuffles through the dusty “Give It Away” or the Latin-tinged daydream of “Near Death Experience.”
The album’s lyrics offer fewer rough edges than usual, though his wry, wordy humor isn’t entirely missing (“We’ll dance like cancer survivors/ Like their prognosis was that you should’ve died,” he sings in “Near Death Experience”). Given his past dictionary gymnastics, the simplicity’s refreshing. “I can’t see the sense in us breaking up at all,” he repeats in “Lazy Projector,” and Break It Yourself gets the message across just fine.