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Andrew Bird - Weather Systems

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Artist: Andrew Bird

Album: Weather Systems

Label: Grimsey

Review date: Apr. 21, 2003


“I’m all for moderation,” sings Andrew Bird on a delicate li’l confection called “Lull”. “But sometimes it seems / That moderation itself can be a kind of extreme.” It’s the obvious dumb pull quote from this most moderate record of Bird’s career thusfar.

With the Bowl of Fire, Midwestern rich boy Andrew Bird made a name for himself with a suave-but-joyful genre-bending tribute to all the popular music swept aside by the electric guitar. Nothing unusual and nothing too exciting, but perfectly disciplined: Bird never got shticky like Squirrel Nut Zippers and never checked his sense of humor like, oh, just about everyone else on this scene. (The presence and influence of the absurdly hep jazz drummer Kevin O’Donnell clearly played a significant role in the BoF’s chemistry, but anyroute…). Not a dry seat in the house. A friend of mine who always felt terribly guilty about liking Jump Little Children could allow herself to love Andrew Bird in peace.

And that shouldn’t make Weather Systems sound boring, and it doesn’t. It just sounds like someone gave Bird the Nick Drake box for Christmas, and he’s not quite sure what to do with it yet. Weather Systems may have a few of the best songs he’s written, but this chaste, hand-kiss pop won’t start a barn-raising in anyone’s skull.

The most immediate thing here is “Skin,” a snaky number with only vaguely sinister whistling for a vocal. It’s a fine soundtrack for a day full of cosmic in-jokes, and it’s the only thing here that isn’t dainty.

The wholesome charms of the more fragile material take a while longer to surface. There’s sweeping sadness in the title tune and “Action/Adventure,” which are flavored with cheesy strings but somehow don’t sound presumptuous. The aforementioned “Lull” does right by its lyric: some flirty nonsense (the sort of game you’d only run for someone already devoted to you) about a soiree under the Atlantic. And “I” is just fucking cool –from a man who’s obviously such a perfectionist, it’s a rare pleasure to hear something that sounds so rugged and unfinished and is so haunting for it. Usually, you’d have to consort with tapers or something.

The world may yet find a place for this uncorrupted gem, maybe alongside the better late-period XTC albums. These things work differently for different people at different times. Pop music is about context. Put this baby on at the right moment in your weekly cycle of tiny joys and it might transport you as gracefully as that new Wilco record clearly tickled some people. And, in this case, it will happen without a murder of squawking Village Voice scribes cheering it on. If it happens, it’s worth defending.

By Emerson Dameron

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