Review: Indie rock multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird's 'Outside Problems' is a breath of fresh air

“Outside Problems,” Andrew Bird (Loma Vista Recordings)

It’s back to the basics for indie rock multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird with his latest release, “Outside Problems.”

Recorded without the intention of creating an album, the nine-track LP showcases the musician’s exceptional improvisational skills. It is like a breath of fresh air, probably because the album was, in fact, recorded primarily outside.

“I was playing for the joy of it and to get these ideas out of my head,” Bird said in a statement. “To hear them in a room. There is no room.”

“Outside Problems” was announced a year after the release of Bird’s album “Inside Problems.” In many ways, “Outside Problems” is both inspired by its predecessor and its total opposite.

Consider these contradictions: “Inside Problems” features vocals and a full band, while Bird only occasionally hums or whistles in “Outside Problems,” showcasing a small number of string instruments instead. “Inside Problems” was also recorded, well, inside, though Bird said in the statement that he would’ve liked to record it outside as well, if it weren’t for some pesky leaf-blowers.

Although “Inside Problems” was released first, Bird says it was the themes explored in his newest record that inspired the 2022 album. See the new album’s “Epilogue,” a sweet and gentle piece with a ghostlike, echoing melodic pattern, or the droning, swirling “Tik Tok.” Themes from the two are hinted at in the first album’s songs, like “Underlands” and “Lone Didion.”

Listeners can challenge themselves to see how many parallels they can spot between the two albums while experiencing the magic that is the musical improvisation in “Outside Problems.”

Many of the tracks feature a fairly simple-sounding formula that starts with a minimalistic violin-plucking pattern. After a couple of rounds, Bird builds on the theme, layering complementing plucking patterns or putting his bow to the string. “Mancey” and “What We Saw” are perfect examples.

Musical improvisation can be a tricky art form, but Bird makes it sound easy, making this album a real treat.

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