Last April, Andrew Bird wrote in The New York Times “Measure For Measure” blog: “The record I want to make here and now – the one I wish I could find in my local record store – is a gentle, lulling, polyrhythmic, minimalist yet warm tapestry of acoustic instruments.” Yep, he’s done what he set out to do.
Bird continues to build on his 2005 breakthrough The Mysterious Production Of Eggs. Prior to that, he went from old jazz forms to ’60s rock ‘n’ roll to solo tape-loop oddities. With Eggs, however, he developed an intimate, open, and highly enjoyable original style, which he furthered on 2007′s Armchair Apochrypa, and now has done so again with Noble Beast.
This time around, the songs are delicately elegiac wisps of ethereal beauty leavened with hints of darkness. The structures are simple melodies intricately tied to complex arrangements, with careful attention paid to dynamics. You’re halfway through the album before you realize how rare it is to hear a backbeat here. There are frequent forays into chamber music structures, with counterpoint between guitars (electric and acoustic), overdubbed violins and other strings, vocals, and whistling. (Bird could easily win Best Whistler in a pop music poll, if there were such a category.)
Bird has always delighted in wordplay – notice how easily he slides from a nonsensical-sounding phrase such as “Souverian the elder” to “So very young were we” in the wistful tale of lost love, “Souverian”. Or catch how deftly he creates a hook in “Anonanimal” by quickly singing “Hold on just a second I know this one I know this song.” Or note the rhyme of “affable” with “laughable” in “Effigy”. It would be nice if Bird could enunciate a little more clearly, but that longstanding observation is ultimately minor in the face of such engaging music.
Andrew Bird performs “Fitz And The Dizzyspells” from Noble Beast