While it’s true that Andrew Bird has a background in classical music, plays the violin, spends an inordinate amount of time whistling, and plays the glockenspiel, I defy anyone listening to his remarkable The Mysterious Production of Eggs to easily identify any of those traits/sounds. Even harder to identify is exactly what Bird is doing in The Mysterious Production of Eggs. Is it alt-country, jazz, folk, classical? The answer is that it is a bit of all these sounds fluidly combined into a unique album that makes good on all the promises of Bird’s early work from Weather Systems to Fingerlings 2.
The Mysterious Production of Eggs is a quietly sublime trip through Bird’s skewed musical universe. It’s a densely melodic place composed of layered instruments so intricately intertwined with each other and Bird’s lyrics that repeated listenings inevitably reveal a hidden but grandiose vision of what a pop record can be.
You won’t hear another record like The Mysterious Production of Eggs this year. For a critic who finds no end of connections between current performers, their contemporaries, and what has gone before, I have to admit that Bird has carved himself a uniquely personal sound. With the help of a small backing band, Bird plays the majority of instruments himself. Bird’s vocal delivery often takes on a very Stephen Malkmus-like phrasing in its deadpan style and clever word interplay (really, efforts to rhyme “formaldehyde” six different ways should be commended). But his savant-like attention to the elaborate arrangements grounded in violin, whistling, thumb piano, glockenspiel, and guitar will make you quickly realize that any attempts to influence-point are doomed to end in a stuttering mess (“it’s like, um, you know, that guy, uh, kinda like, have you ever seen, no, no, like Lyle Lovett but better hair, no, not him, that guy in the movie, no scratch that… he whistles a lot”).
There’s very little verse-chorus-verse song structure here. Though Bird will often return to a particular musical phrase, which in a sense would be identified as a traditional chorus, the musical path he charts within his songs is more akin to a time delay film of a blooming flower: the slow parting of petals, the sudden arrival of a pollen-crusted bee, gape-mouthed when a work boot suddenly crushes the flower.
The Mysterious Production of Eggs begins with a one-minute instrumental comprised of Bird’s bowed violin and his simple whistling. Erase everything you know about those sounds. Put out of your mind the old Andy Griffith Show theme song, banish the sound of Charlie Daniels attacking his fiddle. Bird creates a sound altogether more indulgent, richer, and cloaked in the trappings of classic pop songwriting. The instrumental segues seamlessly into “Savoy” which begins with a gently strummed guitar before being fleshed out with piano. Bird’s lilting tenor is buoyed by a brush stroked snare drum, while his violin chases a clever lyric revealing Bird’s skewed political bent, “I think I’m gonna sack/ The whole board of trustees/ All those Don Quixotes in there B-17’s/ And I swear this time yeah this time/ They’ll blow us back to the ’70s.”
“A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head of the Left” begins in the manner of a quiet ballad before Bird’s sharp whistle introduces the song’s melody. The beat is a subdued skittering of laptop ticks and bleats. Bird brings in the sound of strings before bringing the whole proceeding to a stop with a sudden rush of electric guitar. It’s a clever change-up and an indication of what’s to occur throughout the record.
“Fake Palindromes” begins with Bird’s violin sawing loudly into a pounding beat before easing the song into a wonderfully catchy tune that seesaws between shouts of electric guitar and carefully struck glockenspiel. It’s here that Bird does his lyrical best to rhyme the line, “my dewy-eyed Disney bride what has tried/Sapping your blood with formaldehyde,” as many times as possible. And he succeeds with a variety of phrases from “whisky plied voices cried fratricide” to “Jesus don’t you know that you coulda died”.
“The Naming of Things” is the album’s high point. It’s one of those songs that you’ll find yourself humming one morning when you wake up. It will make you realize how deeply Bird has ingratiated his carefully crafted songs into your brain. I won’t even try to describe it, just be careful if you’re listening to it on headphones while in line at the bank or waiting to pay for your sandwich, you may just start singing out loud without realizing it. This is a rare joy for a record that plies such chameleonic tendencies. Too often an artist’s focus will wander when attempting such a varied, dense album, creating an uneven whole that jars the listener into swerving from excellence to mediocrity. The Mysterious Production of Eggs stands firm from beginning to end, the music complimenting Bird’s sly lyrical style perfectly.