Spanning the Los Angeles River and Interstate 5 rests the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge. The concrete arch bridge has been in the news lately as a multi-million dollar rennovation project thas been met with protest as the inclusion of a pedestrian lane (and removal of an additional car lane), has sparked debate and potential lawsuit. In the middle of this debate, quite literally and figuratively, Andrew Bird decided to record his second of five planned Echolocations albums. Echolocations represent a series of improvised and classical arrangements by Bird in natural environments. The first album, Echolocations: Canyon, was recorded in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Southern Utah and our review is available here. City, Lake, and Forest are all due out in the future. So how does Bird's transition from Canyon to River effect his music? Beautifully.
Much like the first Echolocations album, River uses minimal ambient noise to establish atmosphere. The main accompaniment is the sound of the Los Angeles River that flows by in the majority of each track. The looping violin in "Ellipses" illicits a cadence that is both tense and adventuristic depending on the minute mark and Bird's whistle introduces his violin in "Down Under the Hyperion Bridge" in eleveated fashion as the wooden string instrument sounds more like the toremented soul of one trapped before subsiding and picking up in a vibrant tone that ushers in a wordless narrative for those who allow it. There are no vocals on Echolocations: River and the songs range from introspective and surpsingly optimistic ("Lazuli Bunting"), to downright haunting and full of echoes under the bridge ("The Green Heron"). If you're a fan of Bird's violin and classical compositions then this will be right up your alley as Bird's mix of improvisational creativity mixed with some well known bars will have you smiling in solace. There's more diversity in this offering than one might imagine and the album never rushes itself or loses focus of it's exploratative nature.
Heavier in experimentation, ambient inclusion, and sonic texture than Echolocations: Canyon, Echolocations: River is another album that rewards the gentle listener (arguably moreso than the first). Andrew Bird's first two Echolocations offerings build on one another nicely when sequenced together and it's with a newly instilled patientce (no doubt due to this album) that this fan awaits the next offering. Who knew Los Angeles could be so relaxing.