2001

The Swimming Hour by Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire (2001)

I know very little about Andrew Bird. I actually thought he was a jazz musician, confusing him with, um, another Andrew. (Andrew Hill, apparently, which seems ridiculous.) Anyway, eventually I did figure out he was an “indie rock” musician but knew nothing else. Nothing about his principal instrument, nothing about the Squirrel Nut Zippers, nothing.

And, as usual, I’m approaching someone I know nothing about at random – the last album by the Bowl of Fire and one of any number of albums he’s put out. (He’s, um, prolific.) So everything I say must be taken with a huge grain of salt.
So Bird is a pretty decent songwriter, the melodies can be quite catchy and he has the ability to write in different styles. “Indie rock,” especially 21st century indie rock, can get a bit of a bad rap for being stuck in a few styles and this is absolutely not an issue for Bird. His songwriting (at least on this record) is often super traditional in terms of the form and chords.

As usual, I must admit to not paying much attention to the lyrics. But I am assuming that they’re passable since I never caught a line that I thought was really stupid. (I will point out that while his songwriting style is pretty traditional his lyrics are modern.)

Bird does this rather strange (and difficult) thing: he tries to both be extremely traditional and contemporary. That is quite hard to do well. He writes these songs that sound, sometimes, like they could be from pre-psychedelic eras, but they are performed by this band, which is clearly on the spectrum to indie rock. And then the instrumentation is often quite traditional as well, only its amplified and sometimes they use effects. If the songs and musicians weren’t so good, it’s possible it wouldn’t work. But it does.

Significantly for me, it’s also pretty distinct: I don’t know a lot of other “indie rock” (or “chamber pop” or whatever) artists making music like this in 2001. His commitment to blending theses pasts with present feels fairly unique, in addition to being well done.

It’s also produced really well, sounding really good 20 years later (as if it was recorded today which, I guess, is the great benefit of digital recording technology).

Anyway, I’m very impressed. I have no idea if it’s one of his better albums or not, but this guy is clearly a talent charting his own course, trends be dammed.

8/10

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