With his new album, Are You Serious, Andrew Bird has widened the breadth of his art by directly reflecting his own human experience. With key contributions from Fiona Apple and Blake Mills, Are You Serious attains a level of expression that's a personal, evolutionary leap. "Here I am with my most unguarded, direct, relatable album to date," Bird says, "Go easy on me." "I set out to make a record that's different than any I've made before," he explains. "I wanted to make an album musically crafted like a Wrecking Crew session, where you have to be good. There's less wordplay and more intention to process some brutal times that I went through. What happens when real ordeals befall someone who has always been happy writing from their imagination and the distance of the third person? Who has time for poetics while grappling with birth and death? What's the role of sincerity for a songwriter who doesn't really go in for the confessional thing? This is what I struggled with for this record. I suppose the title could be poking fun at my own foray into the confessional realm." Are You Serious is the second record Bird has made with producer Tony Berg, following 2005's breakthrough The Mysterious Production of Eggs. "Tony and I spent months preparing for Sound City," says Bird, referring to the legendary Los Angeles studio where Nirvana recorded Nevermind and Neil Young made After The Gold Rush. "We went through every part of every song, every note, scrutinizing the voicing of the chords, finding melodically interesting ways to move from one chord to the next. I decided to work with a producer because I wanted the recording process to be more rigorous. Novelists have editors and playwrights workshop their drama. Tony really played that role for me on this album." An up-tempo blitz addressing personal chemistry as a rearrangement of molecules, "Roma Fade" may be the album's centerpiece. Its sense of longing – "from the tips of your fingers, every strand of hair...you may not know me but you feel my stare" – is based in part on how Bird met his wife, or rather, the times he saw her before they met. "Roma Fade" and "Truth Lies Low" present both sides of the phenomenon of observing and being observed. The album's surprise revelation is "Left Handed Kisses," a duet with the singular Fiona Apple. With Bird playing the skeptic and Apple the romantic, the stop-start ballad portrays two lovers who are philosophically opposed but inevitably drawn together. It feels like it could be a lost Johnny Cash/June Carter classic. "My favorite songs I write are the ones that change and adapt according to my mood," says Bird. Album- opener "Capsized" is a prime example, having been in his live repertoire for close to a decade under various titles and guises. In the album's recorded incarnation, "Capsized" is a propulsive gem evoking both the chamber-soul of Bill Withers and the backbeat of The Meters. Bird's vocals are driven onward by drummer Ted Poor and bassist Alan Hampton. The musically expansive nature of Are You Serious is due in part to ace ensemble players like Poor and Hampton, and the guitar playing of Blake Mills while album closer "Valleys of the Young" wonderfully encapsulates the album's themes.