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Andrew Bird | Bowl Of Fire | Swimming Hou | review | alternative | rock | Lollipop

Andrew Bird's Bowl Of Fire

The Swimming Hour (Ryko)
by Jamie Kiffel

Surf Rock has arrived! Say hello, Classical Violins! A pleasure to see you, always. Vibes, Keyboards, Marimbas, you should meet the Slow Jazz inside, and that pentatonic bit that the strings were playing with - why, it makes for a simply mahvelous pah-ty!

The question is, do any of the vastly varied - though uniquely skilled - musical instruments attending Andrew Bird's The Swimming Hour have anything worthwhile to say to one another? Can they even communicate?

Bird's songs behave like restless music school students, experimenting with every style they've learned and patchworking them into technically correct mixtures that leave listeners wondering whether they've just been gifted by a genius or mocked by a madman.

The party starts with "Two Way Action," a catchy pop tune whose lyrics seem to say, "I think I'm gonna, yeah, I think I'm gonna come... my mother," a sentiment so disturbing that I actually couldn't listen to it until I read the liner notes. They claim the lyric is "CALL my mother." After comparing several other examples of what I heard vs. what is written, I generally abandoned the idea of finding deep meaning in the lyrics. Lines like "Let the subject wander to issues of blonde hair or something or other," and "I'm a breather mail receiver" convinced me that these words were chosen for their music, not their message. That said, there are some great lines here, including, "Will my significant be with another?" "Wish it was your temper you were throwing," and "You sound strung out, babe, but so high toned." The mood is light, and a pretty sound is all the reason anybody needs to make noise.

Dick Dale meets Siddhartha meets Cole Porter as each tune marches into the ballroom, masquerading as one or another style. We hear cha-cha on "Case in Point," countrified banjo with oom-pah tuba on "Too Long," and some yippee-ti-yi-yay on "Way out West." Meanwhile, Bird sings like Rufus Wainwright and David Gray sharing a unicorn costume. The music is interestingly complex but very sweet, almost emotionless, and the artistry is so palpable that the brush strokes show. Nora O'Connor's voice adds nothing to the music but more sugar, when it could do well with a few frank tones to level it out. Still, the album is very finely crafted, and if you don't mind your music wearing horns and a cock's comb one moment; halo and hooves the next, these mismatched guests' conversations make for good eavesdropping.
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