"I Want to See Pulaski at Night" is the latest EP from Chicago-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird. A classically trained violinist and a virtuosic whistler, Bird has been blurring the lines between indie rock, classical and folk music for 17 years. In 2012, he produced a pair of albums ("Break It Yourself" and "Hands of Glory") which saw him move toward more traditional folk and Americana while still maintaining his gentle, carefully crafted sound. "Hands of Glory" was particularly notable for being recorded by Bird and his band playing live around a single microphone, a rarity in the age of digital production.
"Pulaski" shares some of that same live spirit in a less pronounced, but possibly more impressive way. On a first listen through the EP, it's easy to be swept away by the lush sound of four or five violin parts being played simultaneously.
You might even choose to ignore the metal clicks that permeate the record due to Bird turning on and off looping effect pedals. On most records these would be edited out after the fact, but they are included here to simulate the experience of a live performance. It's not that Bird wants to show off how he can create a wall of sound with just one violin (it's very impressive), but that he wants to let us in on his creative process. As an artist whose music is all about texture and color, he wants to transmit how he hears these soundscapes directly from his imagination to our ears. These improvisations skip the middle man that is the recording studio and put us right in the room with Bird.
Pictured is singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird.
The album's focus on texture and color may be a letdown for fans coming to this EP expecting six or seven vocal-driven indie folk songs. The only true "song" in that sense is the title track, "Pulaski at Night," delivering a gorgeous violin melody and upbeat groove to a song about a less than lovely stretch of road in Chicago. For those unfamiliar with Bird's work, this track serves as a great introduction to his genre-blending sound and style. "Pulaski and Night" and its intro track "Logan's Loop" are the centerpiece of the record with the remaining five tracks being mostly improvised instrumental pieces featuring only violin, bass and Bird's trademark whistling.
In a line from the title track Bird sings: "I paint you a picture, but it never looks right. 'Cuz I fill in the shadows and black out the light." This sums up the spirit of the EP, and possibly the artist's view on recording as of late. Spending time crafting songs in the studio allows for a very polished sound, but takes some of the pure, unfiltered beauty out of music. These quasi-live recordings give us a raw, honest picture of Andrew Bird and his music, and that makes "Pulaski" a great addition to an already stellar discography.
4 stars out of 5.
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