Andrew Bird’s two albums from last year, the companion LPs Break it Yourself and Hands of Glory, were born countryside, in a barn in west Illinois. That’s where Bird shacked up to crank out hours’ worth of the mostly acoustic material that drove home a big, and particularly solitary year for him.
So, when he repeatedly bellows, “come back to Chicago, city of lights” at the crest of his new EP, I Want to See Pulaski at Night, how can you not scan some trace of eagerness, or at least wishful thinking, to lead his heart along a dim country highway bound for Pulaski Road luminescence? It’s a line that sticks more than any he’s written perhaps since attributing his “morbid fascination” to being a child “obsessed with Operation,” but it’s not a telling one; the Pulaski at Night EP isn’t a “comeback” of any sort, nor a jump from sepia-toned folk to something brighter, nor really much of a deviation or improvement from his 2012 efforts.
The title track doesn’t just contain the only lyrics of the EP, but it’s also the only true song here. Pulaski at Night unfurls like a (real) palindrome, “Pulaski” sequenced in the middle and sandwiched on each end by ten to 15 minutes of loosely structured, but tightly woven instrumental pieces flaunting Bird’s violin solo-looping techniques. Bookended by “Ethio Invention” numbers 1 and 2, which alone combine for 15 minutes of a single instrument played almost every imaginable way and then thickly layered for cacophonous effect, Pulaski at Night even forgoes percussion almost entirely, allowing extra-percussive strumming on its foundational elements to anchor the rhythm.
There’s nothing on Pulaski that doesn’t harken directly to some point of Bird’s recent career, but so much of that goes back to just last year, straight from those rural sessions. Second track “Lit from Underneath”, for instance, seems a perfect fit for Hands of Glory (the less song-friendly of the records), but also recalls the motion of “Souverian”, a highlight track off his last masterpiece, 2009’s Noble Beast.
Save for the five minutes of “Pulaski at Night”, a worthy new essential, each of the remaining 30-plus are superfluous, intended to complement that song; this album is, essentially, really a single forced into the width of an EP. It’s all instantaneous and classic Bird beauty, but no doubt redundant for super-fans, surely the vast majority of those interested in one Bird song packaged with a series of preludes and reprises.
Essential Tracks: “Pulaski at Night”