By: Patricia Kusumaningtyas |
“Sisyphus peered into the mist / A stone’s throw from the precipice, paused,” sings Andrew Bird in the opening track for his latest album, My Finest Work Yet. His choice to start his twelfth solo album with a song about the oft-quoted Greek myth figure Sisyphus does not disappoint, and from the first few minutes of the track we can get a sense of Bird’s musicianship with his whistling and his wordplay (“Sisyphus,” “into,” “mist,” “precipice,” “paused;” just listen to the words slide so perfectly in your ears).
My Finest Work Yet continues to be more and more in sync to today’s political context, and we feel Bird slide more and more to being a “bard of our times” commenting on current affairs over a folk sound à la Father John Misty. It is all explicitly mentioned by the album art—a picture of Bird painted over a recreation of Jacques-Louis David’s “The Death of Marat.” The original work depicts Jean-Paul Marat, a Swiss revolutionary journalist who was killed by another revolutionary Charlotte Corday due to his betrayal over their mutual cause. Perhaps Bird is taking a jab to the modern revolutionary; having this as an album cover tells us that we will be dealing with his own authentic views in this album, portraying his persona as a fallen, martyr revolutionary.
We get a sense of this political sound in his second track, “Bloodless,” with fleeting instrumentation of violins and slow, steady drums—reminding us of The Doors’s “Riders on the Storm.” Lyrically, Bird voices his apprehensions towards his leaders (“I know it’s hard to be an optimist / When you trust least the ones who claim to have the answers”) while searching for both historical and religious references to, at least, find a means to figure out why is it what it is in this bitch of an earth—paraphrasing Psalm 37 in the song’s chorus and the 1936 military uprising of Catalonia in the song’s bridge.
Bird continues his observations in “Olympians,” with the repetition of the word “anathema” and “we’re gonna turn it around” with an instrumentation buildup that ties to the competitive themes of the song. His lyrics bite in “Fallorun,” especially referencing his leaders back in “Bloodless” and their association with being the man of the year: “Such an abomination / Could be the man of the year.” In “Manifest,” Bird takes on the concept of manifest destiny to his own self, evolution, and his end burned as fossil fuel to the sky. He repeats the phrase “don’t pretend you can’t hear,” communicating this evolution to his listeners and reminding us of the rapid destruction of our own earth.
However, Bird approaches the world’s problems not in a defensive-apprehensive way; he retains the humanity of whatever’s left to be salvaged. In “Archipelago,” he sings about how our enemies make us, referencing J. Edgar Hoover and the Gojira monster to show that humanity is made by both our histories and our fantasies. In “Cracking Codes,” Bird sings about authenticity in human communication, citing the power of language and understanding (“And though I may speak to you in tongues / We don’t need Rosetta Stone / To know how this song is sung”). Even though it’s hard to stay optimistic, in My Finest Work Yet, Andrew Bird is trying to remind us of the things that make us human and to take that with us always, no matter whatever outcome’s going to be made in the future of our world.