Andrew Bird

My Finest Work Yet

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Given that he's as well known for his whistling as for his singing, not everyone picks up an Andrew Bird album expecting a cogent lyrical statement. The impressionistic verse that's dominated his work bears this out, but given the cultural tumult of life in America in 2019, it's not surprising that even Bird has something to say about the world at large. My Finest Work Yet (never let it be said Bird is afraid of making a bold statement) isn't the work of an artist mounting a soapbox, but most of the songs do follow a consistent theme that in a time of chaos and upheaval, apathy and cynicism are our worst enemies, and that when we have enemies rather than adversaries, we've given the opposition power rather than blunted it. Bird filters these sentiments through a poetic sensibility on songs like "Bloodless," "Olympians," "Archipelago," and "Fallorun," but even though these songs demand a cautious optimism from his listeners, they're thankfully free of empty cheerleading, and much of the time he sounds like a man determined to win a moral victory even if the outcome of the war itself is in doubt. As for the music, My Finest Work Yet doesn't entirely live up to its title, but it's a marvelous summation of what he does well; it's passionate, beautifully crafted indie rock with an artful undercurrent of folk, and Bird has rarely been as consistently in strong form as a vocalist. Bird and his studio band deliver performances that are dynamic and evocative while sounding fresh and uncluttered, and as usual, his guitar and violin work (as well as his whistling) are first-rate. Bird isn't afraid of melodrama or broad gestures, yet his emotional force is carefully focused and purposeful in these sessions, and this work speaks to the heart as well as the intellect. Andrew Bird isn't going to save the world with My Finest Work Yet, but one of its virtues is he clearly knows that. Rather than issuing directives, Bird, like most of us, is struggling to figure out what to make of trying times without reducing himself to the level of the worst among us, and the process has helped him create an album that is likely to stay relevant and satisfying for a long time to come.

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