Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Andrew Bird's artistry is subtly magical on Sunday Morning Put-On

"Sunday Morning Put-On"

Release date: 24 May 2024
Andrew Bird Sunday Morning Put On cover
23 May 2024, 09:00 Written by Marc Corrales

He might not be a unanimous darling the same way Sufjan Stevens or Joanna Newsom is to the indie music community, but Andrew Bird remains appetising in his own ways.

A kaleidoscopic independent aficionado at heart, Bird emerged from Illinois in the late 1990s with his seamless switches between rock, pop, and folk. His music, having oftentimes flirted with poetry for lyrics and dynamism for composition, ebbs and flows like a keg that explodes with all its pride. This is made all the more apparent in 2006’s Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs where it meshes seeming lullabies like “Sovay” with wistful instrumentals as in “/=/” or syncopated odes via “Masterfade”.

There is one fact about Bird that is worth bearing in mind and that is his love for jazz. Once as a college graduate who was getting his career off the ground, he spent much of his weekend listening to recordings by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, and others on the radio. Making use of the Great American Songbook for the tracks, Sunday Morning Put-On is a pleasant exercise in vocal jazz. It feels like a culmination of Bird’s artistry in that the album’s more simplistic, retro-driven approach comes off as complementary to his previous, more ambitious efforts like 2019’s My Finest Work Yet.

Sunday Morning Put-On is made largely of astute covers of songs written in the 1930s-40s with two suave interpretations of iconic jazz pieces. Tracks like “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”, “Caravan”, or “I Fall in Love Too Easily” flips on its head classic love songs into bona-fide Bond-esque suspense. The more improvised nature of jazz compliments the easy listening vocals of Bird which hovers around a lovely, melodic tenor. Doubtless the swings from the instrumentals could reach as to accentuate the notes, there is a lot of charm to enjoy out of the album .

Meanwhile, compositions like “Ballon de Peut-Etre” and “Django” owes itself more to the vibrating staccatos of the violin, the rattling of the drums, and the dripping basslines. These elements conjure up the sensation of an empty-hearted search for a love that no longer exists. With how the two songs aligned itself towards melancholia, they feel important in giving the other tracks a second meaning. They amplify the songs’ subtext in a way that detracts from being ballad-like romance letters and instead highlights the absence of another singer. In a way, it’s more akin to a yearning for a now-expired relationship.

By that, Sunday Morning Put-On works less as a one-dimensional celebration to classic jazz and more as a conceptual display of the narrator’s wavering composure. It is one thing to think of the album as being Bird’s opportunity to sing his favourite songs, but did you feel a kind of desperation, that depressive anxiety, that denies three-word-utterances? “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Your Face” takes on a second-person addressing rather than the original third-person daydream which, as the penultimate track, sums the album up best. “I was serenely independent and content before we met,” sings Bird right before he lists away his attraction, “Surely I could always be that way again and yet…”

“I Cover the Waterfront” puts the sense of heartache in the middle of an unforgiving city. “My Ideal” imagines a fantasy of a girlfriend who might not exist with the uniformed hope that she might just literally be around the corner. “Softly, as in A Morning Sunrise” features Bird’s vibrato echoing through after spending the first forty seconds having his vocals be mixed to be a whimper. Underneath the cymbals and snares is that of vengeance against an uninterested ex – “The light that gave you glory / Will take it all away.”

On the surface, Sunday Morning Put-On is an imitation of a traditional pop revival in the same vein as Michael Buble which is by no means bad. Bird shows that his vocals are conventionally good thanks to his control over his pitch. What is a lot more interesting however is that as a love letter to jazz, the songs take on a more unified, conceptual meaning of lost love and yearning. Even in moving away from indie rock for the time being, Bird keeps his literary flair with him in reappropriating the songs that he is covering. That is the one aspect that makes the whole album subtly magical in its own way even if it might not break as much ground as one would have hoped for.

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