It’s been pretty amazing to watch the evolution of Andrew Bird as an artist. Starting out in the 90s collaborating with Squirrel Nut Zippers, then moving onto his own “Hot Jazz” outfit Bowl Of Fire and putting out four great albums with them. Then with Weather Systems there was a shift in his style. Leaving the old timey Americana Dust Bowl ditties for more nuanced, thoughtful, and intricate works. Music that felt more personal and modern.
From that point Bird shifted his musical output to a more baroque pop sound. Armchair Apocrypha marked a new era for Bird that saw him prevalent in the indie music scene. Noble Beast and Break It Yourself continued that streak. In between releases Bird would put out instrumental works, holiday albums, and collaborate with artists like Tift Merritt, Fiona Apple, and work on film score work.
His newest album is Inside Problems and it’s his most inward-looking album yet. 2020 got quite a few of us to look inward and deal with some stuff we may had put off up to that point. Andrew Bird has done that here, making his best album in years.
Inside Problems eases you in with opening track “Underlands”, a subtle-yet-groovy number(maybe the grooviest yet from Bird.) His prophetic violin playing and whistling are in tact, as his his easy vocal delivery. His band on this record is tight and on point. There’s always been something academic in Bird’s musical world, while at the same time child-like in the whimsy of the moment. “Underlands” feels like concentrated Bird in the best way possible. Title track “Inside Problems” stomps in with a hint of Americana glee, with shimmering strings and a touch of early 20th century dust.
“The Night Before Your Birthday” has a touch of rock swagger without a single shimmering guitar line, while “Atomized” lays into Bird’s intricate arrangements and eclectic songwriting. His wordplay makes me think Bird is really good at Wordle.
Inside Problems sees Andrew Bird truly engaged in the world around him, as well as the inner struggles we all deal with. There’s a looseness in the rhythms and delivery here that I haven’t heard in Bird in years. His music waxes and wanes between pop elegance and roots music, always has. Here I think he’s found the perfect balance of style and mood. This is his best album in years.