By Maria Caetano
Once in the over-thirties, it’s a proverbial thing that, look twice, you will see children emerging in your circle of friends as extensions of your best buddies, with the added feature of being able to look into the future with the confidence you or them can’t have anymore — they made you adults and they’ll outlive you. It’s a sea change.
I started to notice adulthood and parenting creeping into my playlist back in 2010 while listening to The National’s Matt Berninger singing of putting a brave face to meet his fears while carrying his children on his back in “Afraid of Everyone”. I could see an anthem in there. And also the musical legitimacy for people in my generation to envision themselves happily enjoying summer rock festivals with, well, their kids on their backs.
Millennial independent rock coming to terms with parenthood could well be a phenomenon. This comes to mind as Andrew Bird’s “Are you Serious” tracks play in the background. The great whistler from Illinois says he didn’t try to bring a narrative or timeline into his new record, but it builds up biographically and intimately to tell the story of leaving your dirty laundry behind, seeing the spark when you meet that someone, marrying, reluctantly accepting romance over skepticism, and bringing a child into the world. Don’t be taken aback by the simplistic plot — under Bird’s lyrics and music, it works very well.
For “Are You Serious”, Andrew Bird comes together with guitarist Blake Mills, having Ted Poor as a drummer and Alan Hampton as bassist. Fiona Apple sings one track, “Left Handed Kisses”, a wonderful classical country blues duet — or duel — where love and skepticism exchange arguments: “Am I still a skeptic or did you make me a believer?” Bird asks. “If you hesitate, you’ll hear the click of the receiver,” Apple retorts.
Bird’s violin and whistled melodies meet a strong electrical apparatus and rhythmic section, accompanied with a lot of effects pedals and a few delayed vocals. The blend is heard in the opening “Capsized”, second single of the album coming out on April 1, and a song that Bird has described as an evolution from a spiritual he had been developing for a long time, under inspiration of “Jesus is a A-Dying Bed Maker” from late guitarist John Fahey.
“Roma Fade”, also a single already released, is another great electrical incursion where the violin enters a vintage disco territory of delayed and muffled vocals. Bird’s playful lyrics see him staring across the room to find his spark.
The romantic innuendo progresses in “Truth Lies Low”, “Puma” — “She was radioactive for seven days/How I wanted to be holding her anyway” —, and “Chemical Switches”, now acoustically in what Bird describes as an impressionistic melody. “You lost your sense of humor/and the first place you look is the soles of your shoes,” he sings. In the track that names the album, “Are You Serious”, he goes on singing, “I always thought I wouldn’t be the one to marry”, and, ultimately, “this is all non-fiction”.
At this stage, the journey has prepared us to leave “The Valleys of the Young”, the album’s tenth track, powerfully punctuated with distortion and reverberation, and an unusual electric banjo.
Bird has revealed the song was inspired by images of dust storms sweeping American prairies in the 1930s, under producer Tom Bergen’s suggestion. And this is the scenery where the songwriter, as a character, kind of comes to meet his fate. “Do you need reason we should commit treason/ and bring into this world a son/ and leave the valleys of the young? / Your friends will become strange to you/ as you will become strange to them/ It’s a great divide.” “Do you need a reason we commit to not being free?” he asks further, before wrapping up the record with one classical country ending note, “Bellevue”, and the line “I think I found someone.”
Are You Serious