Andrew Bird’s second album in the Echolocations series explores the world of rivers. After the first album in the series, “Echolocations: Canyon,” found the enigmatic artist playing with instrumental loops and sound texture, Bird has returned to curate more of his instrumental musings on the violin.
The video released for the album finds Bird playing in the Los Angeles river, surrounded by concrete embankments and neverending sprawl of the great western city. In fact, he recorded the whole album at the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge, near the neighborhood that Bird now calls home. That Bird would pick a such a river, one that has been changed radically by human settlement, says a lot about what the artist is trying to do with the album, exploring the contrast that he finds in nature and his own life.
On the second track “Ellipses,” water acts as both texture and rhythm, moving in waves with the music as Bird establishes a rising loop of violin. The sound is mysterious, evoking the exotic dance of the universe as Bird’s violin grows fiercely powerful.
“Lazuli Bunting” moves from hand claps to an ecstatic line of descending violin picking. It’s the most energetic track on the album, and probably the most accessible for fans of Bird’s pop work. Many of the tracks on “Echolocations: River” aren’t easily digestible, flowing in so many layers and sounds that it takes more than one listen to take it all in.
But like a river, there’s something different every time you encounter this album It’s no surprise that water is a connecting force between the songs, even on the classically-inclined “Gypsy Moth,” which soon morphs into a loop of meditative and beautiful violins. It’s one of the best tracks from the album and the one that I keep going back to.
Even though water is incorporated into the album’s sound, I think Bird stopped a bit short of what was possible with his field recordings. Unlike “Ellipses,” where the water establishes a rhythm with the violin, he lets his instrumental musings swallow the sound of the water instead of coexisting with it. By constructing a continuous water-themed ambience to float on, Bird could have built a more intriguing world for the listener to inhabit, more like the feel we find on “Black-Crowned Night Heron.”
In a way “Echolocations: River” feels like a bit of a lost opportunity. Although the album is conceptually intriguing, peaking my interest with the rich and varied tones that Bird finds on the violin, it still doesn’t evoke the complexities of the river for me. It may be just personal preference, but for me the album feels like it’s missing something.
But Bird gains respect for following his experimental leanings as a violinist and composer, and I appreciate his effort in exploring his passions. Having found an audience as a unique auteur of pop and folk music, he could have just followed that line, producing quirky and catchy pop songs for the public. I’m delighted that he’s sticking with the Echolocations series, and am excited to see what’s next for the artist.