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Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird, Three White Horses

Andrew Bird, Heretics

Andrew Bird, Tenuousness

Andrew Bird, Tables and Chairs

A couple of years ago, my significant other, Cassie, (to whom I am now engaged) was kind enough to indulge my admittedly silly birthday craving for inefficient old technology by gifting me a beautiful vintage Royal typewriter. It was an excellent gift that I love dearly, but like the hardcopy books I continue to horde, more modern advances have infringed upon those technologies’ relevance and nearly rendered them obsolete to most people.

And despite my love for science fiction and the popular trend toward employing new technologies, there’s something in my heart (and many others’) that simply won’t let go of the old ways. In fact, “the old ways” seem to have become something of a theme on this blog in the last few months.

So, after hearing at length the merits of listening to music via vinyl records (courtesy of my father, friends, and an interview with Nick Waterhouse), I finally convinced myself it was time to give LP’s a spin and expand my collection of old technology, accusations of hipsterdom be damned. A Christmas gift of the patient and indulgent variety, I received last year a modern, automated record player and one album: Andrew Bird’s newest, Hands of Glory.

I’ve been a fan of Andrew Bird for a long time, but always from a distance. For those that don’t know him, he is an indie singer/songwriter who is most famous for three things: his violin skills, his whistling skills, and his ability to create extremely complex music and lyric concoctions. It’s this last bit that can make it difficult to get into Andrew Bird and why although he is often regarded by critics as a superstar, he has yet to achieve broad popularity.

It takes work to appreciate Bird. His technical prowess and lyrical complexity are infinitely appealing, and also daunting. But once you put in the time, his stories and sounds reveal depths of artistry that make you feel like you’re a part of something special; part of a collaborative creative process. He’s the kind of musician that challenges you to really listen and understand not just what he has to say, but what it means to you. And though I love many of his songs dearly, Bird’s albums as whole works have largely failed to connect with me. Until Hands of Glory.

Back to the record player. It’s winter and Christmas has past. It’s snowing outside and the sun’s gone down. I decide it’s the perfect time to hear what Bird’s been up to. I connect the wires, press a  button, and set the record spinning. Moments later my speakers crackle. Strings are plucked, lyrics are sung, and I am transported to somewhere warm and inviting and pure.

Like Nick Waterhouse, Bird infuses vintage sounds with youthful energy. Simple acoustic renditions of old Appalachian-style standards flow into Bird’s original songs, all recorded around a single microphone and performed by excellent talent. You get the sense that you are among friends late at night, sipping a drink and quietly enjoying an impromptu summer jam session. The meandering collection of songs, which at turns celebrates love and ruminates on death, culminates in a nine-minute track that ties the whole experience together. In “Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses,” Bird crafts a hypnotic, expansive soundscape and is content to let the listener’s imagination wander and reflect.

Though the trip is at times short and melancholy, it is relentlessly beautiful. This is, to me, a nearly perfect album. With Hands of Glory, Andrew Bird has distilled the most critical elements of his talent and experience and convinced me in the process that he is more magician than musician. I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate performer with which to initiate my record-collecting journey.

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Fox and Cat

2012 has been a busy year. Apart from the inception of this blog, there have been many significant events – in the world and abroad – both excellent and awful. Fortunately, the former far outnumbered the latter in mine and my loved ones’ personal experiences and for that I am extremely grateful.

I generally try to avoid discussing my personal life, but there’s one special new development I’m excited to share here: After seven years together with my significant other, Cassie, I took the opportunity this past Saturday to ask for her hand in marriage. Surrounded by impeccably-dressed friends, beautiful Christmas decorations, and delicious food at our annual holiday dinner, my sentimental, meandering toast quickly – and nervously – transformed into a proposal.

For anyone who is interested (and I record it here for posterity’s sake), I thought I would provide the speech I had prepared and practiced. Guests who witnessed it live will notice I skipped some doom and gloom. Frazzled nerves allow little time for thoughtful reflection and do awful things to your mouth’s coordination. More importantly though, I just couldn’t wait to ask Cassie the big question. She was radiant and surprising her (and everyone else) was just too much fun. So, here it is:

“I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you all here.

It’s been an eventful year, full of new relationships, new friends, new homes, new jobs, new babies, new stages of life, and always new adventures. Unfortunately there have been and always will be difficulties and horrors lurking in the darkness. This year we have seen our fair share of them. But gathering here with you, I am filled with renewed hope and optimism. I hope you are, too.

In preparing this, I was thinking about all of those new events and developments and realized that nothing of great significance had happened in our lives this year, Cassie. Can you think of anything? Nothing? Well, like I said, I am especially happy you’re all here so you can help me change that.

Cassie, over the last seven years, you have been my best friend, my confidant; everything I could ask for in a companion in life. I love you. And today, I was wondering if you would like to be my wife. Will you marry me?”

She said “Yes” immediately! I dropped to one knee and presented a silver ring fashioned in the shape of a fox. I love them – especially arctic foxes, who mate for life – and I wanted Cassie to always have a special token that reminded her of me. She threw her arms around me and needless to say, there was much rejoicing.

When everything was said and done, our guests’ food lay abandoned and cold on the table in service of enthusiastic applause, handshakes, and embraces. “Grief is the price you pay for love,” as they say and we later mourned the frigid feast. But this was a fantastic experience and it went better than I could have hoped. Cassie and I are extremely excited.

Thank you to everyone who was there in person and in spirit, who had a hand in stoking the forge of our relationship, and who helped us celebrate this occasion with love and well wishes. I hope your kindness and friendship is repaid many times over to you in the future. 2013 is shaping up to be another excellent year. We can’t wait to see you there.