Meditations on Music: Andrew Bird’s “Are You Serious”

I have waited a long time for this album. Aside from some shorter releases—which were either primarily instrumentals or covers—Bird has not put out much new music since his two albums in 2012. While I have greatly enjoyed the releases between then and now, I was mostly looking forward to another album with not only his beautiful musicianship, but his intelligent and comical lyrics as well. With the few singles leading up to the album and the album itself, Bird filled that void in my life.

I have focused on his lyrics since hearing him for the first time several years ago. As both a writer and musician, the ideas of influence and inspiration are intriguing and important to me and cannot be disregarded when approaching an instrument or pen. With music, it seems more obvious to me who influences what I create, but writing is somewhat different. I do not know why I write the way I do, but as I ponder this question, Bird seems to be a subconscious influence. While I do not really write songs like he does, I strive to write in ways that reflect me most accurately. I like for my voice and approach to music to be heard in any of my writings similar to how Bird has sculpted such a distinct voice that can be heard in his music.

His voice continues on—pun-filled, poetic and all—in this album, which seems to be his most explicitly personal album so far. In past albums, the subject of relationships have come up a fair amount, juxtaposed with scientific wording and surreal imagery, but now—as he has been married for several years—their appearances are much more frequent and clear as he experiences his long-term relationship with his wife. Perhaps this trend is because it is in the forefront of his mind and he feels closer to the idea of being with someone for the rest of his life. He may not feel the need to always use meticulously-worded literary devices to decorate what he is feeling. Instead, he has gotten to a point where being strictly autobiographical makes sense.

These are just observations from someone who—while extremely familiar with his work—is, of course, not Bird himself. One aspect I have always loved about Bird’s music is the many ways it can be interpreted, which applies to this album in particular. Because I know so much context for the album—mainly his marriage and the birth and toddlerhood of his son—I am left wanting to fill in the blanks of what I do not know, excitedly picking apart his well-put-together lyrics to see what they mean. What is he thinking? Why and how are all of these things affecting him? Without even acknowledging the complexity and beauty of the actual music, so much exists just within the words he sings that the listener can spend time with.

One of the great things about Bird’s music is that no matter your understanding of the lyrics, one can always enjoy the music. To this day, I have not met anyone who does not like his music at least a little bit, and those who do like him usually devour his entire discography. This certainly speaks to his overarching voice as a musician. Bird has an incredible ear for making pleasing songs, sounds and textures. Despite this gift, his music never sounds formulaic to me, even if it is rooted in rock, folk, pop and classical—all genres that tend to be formulaic.

This album is no exception, although it does have poppier vibes due to heavier, grooving drums, slightly catchier choruses than usual and more relatable lyrics. However, these things do not detract from Bird’s ingeniously crafted layering of trademark sounds—distorted pizzicato violin, whistling with reverb and more—but rather are yet another step in the progression of his sound.

It does not sound like his past few albums, and it certainly will not sound like the next one. Bird’s transformation as a solo artist is one that has greatly intrigued me due to its gradual and tasteful nature.

Truth be told, I was expecting an album that would leave me speechless, maybe even trigger something short of a spiritual experience. When I listened straight through, I did not get that experience. I loved the album but did not feel the same connection to it as his other works. After pondering why, I realized expectation had gotten in the way of truly connecting to the music.

Most of his past albums had already been released when I listened to them, leaving no room for buildup. Sure, my opinions of the albums shaped how I heard following ones, but in a natural way. With “Are You Serious,” I was so excited for new, original songwriting from Bird that I put aside all other aspects and focused too greatly on that expectation. As I realized this fact on the seventh or so listen, the album opened up to me, and I began enjoying it even more, connecting to it in the way I expected to right away.

“Are You Serious” is a damn good album. It amazes me how Andrew Bird can be so consistent in releasing so many albums at this level while also changing up his sound. If you are looking to start listening to Bird, this album is as good a place as any to start. In it, you will find his defining characteristics, present in many of his other releases, but also an openness regarding his personal life, something that was not always distinctly present in past albums. I am excited to see where this slightly new approach takes him.

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