Album Review: Jade Bird – ‘Jade Bird’

Jade Bird

The short version: Jade Bird wears her influences on her sleeve like any artist, but on her self-titled debut album, she transcends those influences by imbuing her own fiery personality into her work.

  • Favorite tracks: “17,” “Love Has All Been Done Before,” “Uh Huh,” “I Get No Joy,” “If I Die”
  • Least favorite tracks: “Good At It,” “My Motto”
  • Rating: 8/10

The long version: Yes, I know I should have covered this months ago, but if you haven’t noticed yet, there’s almost nothing coming out in July, at least in terms of music I’d be interested in covering. Therefore, I’m largely going to be making up for lost time this month by covering projects that slipped through the cracks for me.

So let’s start with the first artist on my backlog, Jade Bird, an English singer-songwriter who’s gained traction in the indie-folk scene thanks to some good groundswell support and working with Lumineers producer Simone Felice, with “Lottery” becoming a No. 1 for her on the Billboard Adult Alternative Songs chart.

And the Lumineers connection is fitting for Bird, as she fits in a weird middle ground that both country or rock fans could enjoy all while fitting squarely into neither camp – think, say, Alanis Morissette or Vance Joy. It’s also fitting that she counts everything from Dolly Parton to the Civil Wars as influences, as given that she’s only 21 years old, she wears those influences proudly on her sleeve with her self-titled debut album. Yet Jade Bird is also the kind of album where Bird transcends beyond those influences by showcasing her own fiery personality.

On that note, as a vocalist, I’m truly impressed with Bird. She’s got the kind of ragged edge to her voice that leads to some truly gratifying moments when she goes all out, yet she’s also able to balance that out with softer, tender performances without making the sequencing feel jarring. There are certain tracks where she falls into a bit of a predictable mold for an indie star of the pop-rock variety like on “Does Anybody Know,” but she truly finds herself in the latter half of the album. Whether it’s the menacing tone of “Uh Huh” or the almost too personal vulnerability of “17,” most of what makes this album such a compelling listen comes from Bird herself.

Given her age, it’s not surprising to hear that much of this album speaks toward relationships and a reckless sense of adventure and abandonment. Her writing is often as fiery as she is herself, but the underlying impression of this album is that Bird is aware of much of the damage she’s causing to herself with certain relationships. To her, she’d rather dive in recklessly and at least say she tried rather than let a moment pass by, and that’s a relatable sentiment for this particular time in anyone’s life. “Ruins” basically sets the stage for that thematic arc, opting for a more scatterbrained approach but still getting the point across, nonetheless.

Going back to the vocals, however, beyond just her technical abilities, Bird’s flow is often interesting as well. Again, the main theme of this entire album as a whole is wild recklessness, so it’s no surprise to hear her fast-paced tones at times. “I Get No Joy,” for example, is another track that explores a different side to the younger psyche while also exploding when it gets to that hook, and if you need to look up the lyrics to follow along I don’t blame you.

But she’s honest and quirky, and that’s what make certain tracks feel absolutely righteous in their deliveries. Heck, she’s quite aware that it’s hard to spin love in a new or interesting fashion like on “Love Has All Been Done Before,” but that doesn’t stop it from being a relatable, complex emotion. On one hand, she’s not going to refrain from calling out an ex-lover for being nothing more than a puppet to the woman he dumped Bird for, but she’s also quick to acknowledge when she’s in the wrong too, like on the heartbreaking “17.” And then the closer, “If I Die” explores a darker side to her mindset that, while feeling premature to be singing about “the end” on a debut album, also shows a wisdom beyond her years in just how well-framed the sentiment of wanting her music to live on is when you examine its core.

When it comes to the production, Jade Bird often opts for a “less is more” approach, for better or worse. A well-woven combination of acoustic guitars, drums and piano often give these songs all the support they need, and whether it’s a more raucous guitar arrangement or more intense drum pattern, the songs truly come alive at points. “Going Gone” has mostly been signaled as the weakest track here by critics (perhaps because it’s the closest cousin to country music on this track), but I liked the jangly, rollicking acoustic guitar accompaniment that reminded me most of Johnny Cash of all people, at least tonally. Plus, like with “I Get No Joy,” it’s always a treat to hear Bird tackle a rapid bridge.

Again, once that second half hits, this album is damn near unstoppable, but certain tracks toward the front do feel a tad underdeveloped musically and melodically. Tracks like “Ruins,” “Lottery,” and “My Motto” are all slow burns that, while eventually hitting on something good musically every now and then, still feel like lesser tracks in comparison. Even when it comes to the vocal production, for as intense as Bird gets, it often feels like the muted vocal layering holds her back from bringing even more firepower to the table.

Ironically, though, the weakest song on the album does stem from the second half, as “Good At It” takes the same angle of “Uh Huh” of exploring a relationship from the other, broken side, but adopts the played-out formula of framing it in a series of endless questions.

But overall, while maybe lacking in consistency, when Jade Bird is at its highest mark, it makes for some of the most riveting album of the year. There’s a frenetic energy to Bird’s delivery and songwriting that’s refreshing, unique, and, most importantly, shows signs for future development beyond this album. I know I’m terribly late in spreading this message, but if you haven’t checked out Bird yet, I highly advise doing so.

(Decent 8/10)

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