Music

Andrew Bird: I Want to See Pulaski at Night

Avant-garde even by Andrew Bird's standards, the meandering, mostly instrumental I Want to See Pulsaski at Night is gorgeous but empty.


Andrew Bird

I Want to See Pulaski at Night

Label: Grimsey
US Release Date: 2013-11-12
UK Release Date: Import
Website
Amazon
iTunes

For the past two or so months, we’ve been able to sit with Andrew Bird’s latest experimental EP, I Want to See Pulaski at Night. It’s raw, sparse, experimental, and beautiful. It features Bird’s inventive violin work, looping both percussively and melodically over lilting rhythmic accompaniment. It’s eerily haunting at times and tranquil at others.

Then again, that description could be applied to most of Bird’s work. So what’s remarkable about Pulaski?

Well, consider that it’s an entire EP built around a single, centerpiece song: “Pulaski at Night”, which also happens to be the only track on the record with a vocal. The EP’s six other tracks are instrumentals, ranging in length from just one to an impressive eight minutes.

The experience of listening to Pulaski is pretty revelatory: it reveals that Andrew Bird’s remarkable talents on violin alone can’t carry an entire pop record.

Pulaski is Andrew Bird distilled and filtered until the rawest, purest form of his music is left behind. He’s less adventurous with instrumentation -- we don’t get the steel drums or saxophone like we saw on his previous full-length effort Break It Yourself. Most of the instrumentals are baroque in style and in nomenclature, with “Hover I” and “Hover II” taking up two tracks, implying two related but separate movements. The record is bookended by “Ethio Invention no. 1” at the open and “Ethio Invention no. 2” to close it out.

It was smart to break up the tracks this way. Had Bird not done so, the record would run the risk of being monotonous. The “Ethio” tracks share a gorgeous, jaunting texture overlayed with expert violin flourishes. Both “Hover”s are slow, warm, orchestral ballads that show just how much sound an expert can put out with so few tools. Bird is really filling the room. Even on subpar sound systems, the music conveys a real sense of space.

Bird is at his most raw here. Occasional miscues are left in for the sake of purity. You can hear what must be a wooden bow set down onto a metal music stand several times throughout the record. And I swear I hear the familiar clack of a MacBook Pro space bar more than once, no doubt running some ProTools iteration that allows Bird to add layer upon layer to his sonic parfait. Or maybe I’m crazy.

But for all that, it can’t go without saying that 27 of this record’s 32 minutes are the same two or three instruments playing in the same style, with no hooks, choruses, lyrics, or any real structure to speak of. Song titles indicate common aural themes but those are vague at best and hard to grab onto. If you came looking for more of Bird’s introspective, classically inspired indie pop or folk, you’ll find little of it.

Is I Want to See Pulaski at Night a worthwhile experiment? Maybe. It rings arbitrary and aimless, something his earlier stuff might be accused of, but I think it’s finally a valid concern here. It’s so pure it borders on sterile.

Yet It certainly makes you appreciate what Bird is capable of. With his classically trained background and pedigree as a concert musician, he has every right to indulge in a record this divorced from the pop and indie ecosystem. But this is PopMatters, not SeniorRecitalMatters, so we’re going to have to look at it that way.

On those terms, Bird has been better -- but perhaps not more interesting.

5
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

12 Essential Kate Bush Songs

While Kate Bush is a national treasure in the UK, American listeners don't know her as well. The following 12 songs capture her irrepressible spirit.

Music

Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish Replace Form with Risk on 'Interactivity'

The more any notions of preconceived musicality are flicked to the curb, the more absorbing Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish's Interactivity gets.

Music

Martin Green's Junkshop Yields the Gritty, Weird Story of Britpop Wannabes

Featuring a litany of otherwise-forgotten budget bin purchases, Martin Green's two-disc overview of coulda-been Britpop contenders knows little of genre confines, making for a fun historical detour if nothing else.

Reviews

Haux Compellingly Explores Pain via 'Violence in a Quiet Mind'

By returning to defined moments of pain and struggle, Haux cultivates breathtaking music built on quiet, albeit intense, anguish.

Reviews

'Stratoplay' Revels in the Delicious New Wave of the Revillos

Cherry Red Records' six-disc Revillos compilation, Stratoplay, successfully charts the convoluted history of Scottish new wave sensations.

Reviews

Rising Young Jazz Pianist Micah Thomas Debuts with 'Tide'

Micah Thomas' Tide is the debut of a young jazz pianist who is comfortable and fluent in a "new mainstream": abstraction as well as tonality, freedom as well as technical complexity.

Music

Why Australia's Alice Ivy Doesn't Want to Sleep

Alice Ivy walks a fine line between chillwave cool and Big Beat freakouts, and her 2018 debut record was an electropop wonder. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, she tries to keep the good vibes going with a new record decked out in endless collaborations.

Books

Five Women Who Fought the Patriarchy

Whether one chooses to read Square Haunting for the sketches of the five fascinating women, or to understand how misogyny and patriarchy constricted intellectual and public life in the period, Francesca Wade's book is a superb achievement.

Film

Director Denis Côté on Making Film Fearlessly

In this interview with PopMatters, director Denis Côté recalls 2010's Curling (now on Blu-Ray) discusses film as a "creative experiment in time", and making films for an audience excited by the idea of filling in playful narrative gaps.

Music

Learning to Take a Picture: An Interview With Inara George

Inara George is unafraid to explore life's more difficult and tender moments. Discussion of her latest music, The Youth of Angst, leads to stories of working with Van Dyke Parks and getting David Lee Roth's musical approval.

Music

Country Westerns Bask in an Unparalleled Sound and Energy on Their Debut

Country Westerns are intent on rejecting assumptions about a band from Nashville while basking in an unparalleled sound and energy.

Film

Rediscovering Japanese Director Tomu Uchida

A world-class filmmaker of diverse styles, we take a look at Tomu Uchida's very different Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji and The Mad Fox.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.