January 20, 2009
Bella Union
Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Pop

Album Review

Released in 2007, Armchair Apocrypha proved that hyper-literate singer/songwriter, genre-bending violin player, and peerless whistler Andrew Bird had found the perfect middle ground between his increasingly austere solo sets and the full-band grandeur of his days with the Bowl of Fire, a strategy he repeats with similar results on Noble Beast, his fifth full-length solo offering and second collection for the Mississippi-based Fat Possum label. Bird, a classically trained violinist since the age of four, has skillfully integrated nearly everything with strings on it into his repertoire since his conversion from the Weill and Brecht-heavy days of Music of Hair, Thrills, and Oh! The Grandeur to the semi-mainstream indie pop of The Swimming Hour, but it's his seemingly limitless capacity for manipulation of the violin that dominates Noble Beast. Opening cut "Oh No," a track that Bird began releasing sketches of months before the album's street date, may be his most successful foray into the murky world of the potentially commercial pop song yet, boasting a chorus that points directly at the Shins while maintaining the artistic integrity of the loop-happy, meticulous craftsman who fans have been watching evolve since 2003's Weather Systems. What follows is a typically eclectic batch of material that reflect Bird's own musical time line. Tracks like "Masterswarm" and "Not a Robot, But a Ghost" are proof positive that he hasn't completely abandoned his swing jazz roots, "Fitz and the Dizzyspells" could very well provide audiences with their first opportunity to "bust a move" at a show, while "Nomenclature"'s easy country-folk front half dissolves into a rear end that wouldn't seem out of place on a late-'90s Radiohead album. Throughout it all Bird rhymes -- sometimes to a fault -- like a history or biology professor ("From proto-Sanskrit Minoans to porto-centric Lisboans"), rendering many of the songs clever as opposed to emotionally resonant, but whatever romance he lacks in the textual medium he more than makes up for in melody. [The deluxe version of the album includes an impressive bonus disc of instrumental works, cleverly titled Useless Creatures, which features collaborations with Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche and jazz bassist Todd Sickafoose.]
James Christopher Monger, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Oh No
  2. Masterswarm
  3. Fitz and the Dizzyspells
  4. Effigy
  5. Tenuousness
  6. Nomenclature
  7. ouo
  8. Not a Robot, But a Ghost
  9. Unfolding Fans
  10. Anonanimal
  11. Natural Disaster
  12. The Privateers
  13. Souverian
  14. On Ho
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