Marriage, fatherhood, and California are on the mind of Andrew Bird, whose tenth LP, Are You Serious, offers a rare glimpse into the enigmatic artist's personal life. Prior to this release, Bird's vast and perpetually inventive body of work has generally eschewed confessional songwriter fare, opting instead for the clever wordplay of a worldly observer who sets the scene but rarely lives in it. A lifelong troubadour whose wandering ways have seemingly found some respite as a Los Angeles family man, the native Chicagoan cracks open the door and reveals himself in a way that manages to strike an elegant balance with his more cryptic tendencies. One of the most dramatic of these revelations is "Valley of the Young," a track whose sweeping rock crescendos punctuate its coming-of-middle-age take on becoming a parent "where your friends will become strange to you, just as you will become strange to them." The lovely "Bellevue" offers a heartfelt paean to his wife as he sings "Now I found someone who can slake my thirst in a land beset by drought" while on the title cut, Bird takes aim at his own verbosity, wryly crooning "Used to be so willfully obtuse, or is the word abstruse? Semantics like a noose, get out your dictionaries." Still, this subtle shift inward hasn't dampened his poetic flair and musically he manages to distill his creative hallmarks into a set that beautifully melds the stripped down tone of later works like 2012's Break It Yourself with the lushly appointed folk-pop orchestrations of his mid-2000s output. Reuniting with producer Tony Berg, who helmed his 2005 tour de force The Mysterious Production of Eggs, Bird is also joined by multi-instrumentalist Blake Mills and L.A. favorite Fiona Apple, who duets with him on the quirky acoustic "Left Hand Kisses." The veteran presence of keyboardist Patrick Warren (Michael Penn, Aimee Mann) and legendary mixing engineer Tchad Blake (Los Lobos, Richard Thompson) also lend a bit of West Coast polish to the proceedings. Soulful offerings like "Capsized" and "Truth Lies Low" color the record's first half while the strange, dub-flavored pop of "Puma" makes for one of his catchiest tracks in years. The eerie magic of "Saints Preservus" into the sunny "The New Saint Jude" sets off a marvelous four-song run that closes out what is some of Andrew Bird's best work in nearly a decade.
AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger