New albums this week from Andrew Bird, Xiu Xiu, Bowerbirds, Ceremony and more

Andrew Bird, "Break It Yourself": Andrew Bird is one of the great pop visionaries of the past decade, but, for the second album in a row, it sounds like he's still trying to figure out his next step. The best parts of this record recall him at his finest, tweaking his sound just enough to freshen it up, but unfortunately they're surrounded by too many songs that end up as pleasant background music. And so it is with "Break It Yourself," an album with a solid first half, that restores the energy and vitality of Mr. Bird's musical vision and then slowly and steadily leaches that energy back out of it.

Xiu Xiu, "Always": Xiu Xiu, a decade into its career, returns with another album of songs utterly possessed of Jamie Stewart's unique creative voice. He doesn't make music intent on polarization as its primary goal. Rather, he writes songs in a voice so distinctive and unusual that it can't help but seem too strange -- or too convinced of its strangeness -- to some. He is the rare artist who hews closely to his creative impulses, letting them take him to places both uncomfortable and inviting, depending on the moment. This is sort of fearlessness is worth your time.

Bowerbirds, "The Clearing": Folk outfit Bowerbirds' third album flirts with jazz and rock without clouding the rustic simplicity that first put the band on the map. Although the record is not exactly a big budget production, it's impossible to miss the signs of the band's growing resources; pianos, strings, horns and percussion surface in the sort of lush arrangements not found on the band's first two LPs. Bowerbirds pass the test with flying colors; their buffed-up sound never obstructs the careful beauty of their melodies.

• Ceremony, "Zoo": For its first LP for Matador, this California punk five-piece is quite comfortable eschewing extremes of excellence and awfulness (not to mention its hard-core roots) to be unambitiously average. Don't let the artsy post-punk aesthetic of the band's record artwork fool you: "Zoo" is unaffected, meat-and-potatoes garage rawk, through and through. Even considering that, "Zoo" fulfills a hunger while offering only the bare minimum of flavor. If Ceremony's music is truly meant to represent modern punk's vanguard, the world ought to be concerned about the genre's current health.

Other notable releases: Bruce Springsteen, "Wrecking Ball"; Balkan Beat Box, "Give"; Blues Traveler, "25"; Bill Frisell, "Floratone II"; Kaiser Chiefs, "Start the Revolution Without Me"; The Magnetic Fields, "Love at the Bottom of the Sea"; The Men, "Open Your Heart."

-- popmatters.com



First Published 2012-03-07 23:39:50