It would be easy to criticise Bird for missing the unique experimental opportunity that an intermediary EP release can provide. Right from its opening; the plucked, strummed, looped violin of ‘Ethio Invention No.1’; I Want To See Pulaski At Night is undeniably similar in its musical style to much of his previous work, and this remains the case throughout. It is with the EP’s form, however, that Bird experiments. The release is structured rigidly around its title track, which appears fourth out of seven, cushioned on either side by sets of three instrumental tracks which showcase Bird’s consistent ability, through clever use of time signatures and musical space, to conjure a feeling of motion and direction. This is not to say that this instrumental ‘cushioning’ does not stand up alone – Bird’s playing is, as usual, that perfect balance of technical mastery and emotional expression which is often lacking in all but the most accomplished musicians – but it is as a whole that I Want To See Pulaski At Night is to be best appreciated. There is a symmetry present, which forces focus on the central track, an instrumental epilogue and prologue to enhance the main text.
If it is in form that I Want To See Pulaski At Night is rendered unique, then it is in the title track that we find a justification for its comfortable musical familiarity. With the EP’s only instance of Bird’s typically understated, but tonally perfect vocal, this familiarity suddenly makes sense. The lyrics literally state the release’s purpose: “I’ll send you a postcard that says Pulaski at night”, and a postcard it is – Colourful, cinematic, to be read by anyone who picks it up, but with a message in its title that is only fully understood by the intended recipient. “Come back to Chicago, city of light/Come back to Chicago”, is Bird’s markedly personal plea. The supposed lack of musical experimentation is, then, what one would expect to find at the end of the postcard: a sender’s name, a musical signature which reads, distinctly, ‘Andrew Bird’.
Words: David Fraser