Tag Archives: Andrew Bird

Album Review: Noble Beast – Andrew Bird

“Let’s get out of here/past the atmosphere” implores singer/songwriter/multi instrumentalist Andrew Bird in “Oh No,” the opening track of his latest effort, Noble Beast. Listening to his rich soundscapes — immaculately constructed down to the last note — Bird’s simple lyric begins to take on increasingly added significance.

Noble Beast is by no means a revolutionary, atmosphere abandoning effort. Bird strays only moderately from the standard pop structures he has gradually adopted ever since ably crossing over from the world of classical music. Yet, his instrumental acuity is such that even tunes eerily similar to his previous work yield a bounty of new discoveries.

The violin introducing “Oh No” sounds extraordinarily familiar in a way, as if sprung from the confines of some old 45 but also gorgeously original with its tone of measured romanticism. The melody, which Bird extracted from the utterance of a small child seems just right, almost as if Bird put into song everything the little boy felt when he cried “oh no.”

In fact, each of Bird’s arrangements is an adventure in and of itself as evidenced by one of Beast’s standouts, “Anonanimal.” Though seemingly titled by Flight of the Conchords, it assuredly swings through a variety of moods created by the clash and combination of Bird’s swelling violin, up tempo guitar picking and lyrical dalliances with consonance and rapidly morphing meters. Ultimately, Bird coos and his violin weeps, making one feel a great deal for whatever an “anonanimal” is.

Also featured is Bird’s recent experimentation — assisted by collaborator Martin Dosh — with unconventional percussive rhythms. “Not a Robot, But a Ghost” begins with a spare digital-inflected beat seemingly offered by Thom Yorke before the addition of a full drum kit propels the insistent rhythm to the forefront.

Similarly, Bird’s guitar playing has matured to the point that his fingerpicking even propels selected songs such as “Natural Disaster” rather than merely providing the pleasant rhythmic background. One could easily assume it was Paul McCartney who composed the guitar line, fresh off of writing “Blackbird.”

More pop revivalist than mere formalist, Bird mainly employs spaced, unconventional timbres to avoid structural monotony. Whether it’s the violin plucking, the whistling or the glockenspiel playing, Bird never quite stops refracting his melodies through various mediums. After all, “Tenuousness” is essentially the repetition of the same melodic phrase, first by guitar then eventually by violin, bass and Bird’s ethereal whistle.

Lyrically, Bird sticks to his long held conviction that words exist to serve the melody and not the other way around. It is the sound and rhythmic quality of each syllable which seduces Bird rather than the literal meaning of the words themselves. Stanzas such as “Under the elders/the older get younger/the younger get over/over the elders/and under the elders/pretend that you’re older now” from the peak of the album, “Souverian” sound equal parts nonsensical and wonderfully poetic.

Fortunately, Bird is as witty as he is melodically perceptive. In “The Privateers,” Bird issues the most elegant rebuttal of product pitchmen in recent memory, singing “Don’t sell me anything/Your onetime offer so uncalled for…” with all the appropriate emotional inflections.

The only pseudo-fault of Beast is that it cannot compare to Bird’s much darker masterpiece, The Mysterious Production of Eggs. Granted, the musicianship is better than ever but Beast simply lacks the emotional punch of Bird singing “You’re what happens when two substances collide/ And by all accounts you really should have died” on Eggs. It is easy to point to that line alone and understand the album as a treatise on life and the various difficulties involved in its creation and conclusion. No such thesis is provided for Beast other than vague allusions to invented creatures and animals.

By now it is well established that Bird is a meticulous artisan of sound. It appears, however, that amidst all his perfectionism he has lost sight of the big picture. Even the highlight of the album,”Souverian” is left stranded without any songs kindred in spirit to support its masterful atmospheres. Still, Noble Beast is worth hearing for those small pleasures alone. We are never quite sure what it all adds up to but to quote one of Bird’s previous albums: “Oh! the Grandeur.”

RATING:

-Vman

Noble Beast is a reconciling of the tenderness and openness of The Mysterious Production of Eggs with the edginess of Armchair Apocrypha (Armchair Apocrypha and …Eggs being his previous two albums). It’s not so much of a balancing act because the darkness that preoccupied Armchair Apocrypha is mostly gone. Both in lyrical and tonal measurements, Noble Beast is a much more cheerful record.

The deluxe edition (Noble Beast and an album of instrumentals, Useless Creatures) packaging is excellent.

– R.H.

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Recap: Best Of 2007

If you haven’t noticed, it’s unlikely we will post any more detailed, comprehensive, elaborate posts about the media that appeared in 2007. But there’s this post. Which is slightly comprehensive (at least on the music side of things).

Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters by the Twilight Sad is the best album of 2007. Original, new, brilliant, meaningful, emotional, real, great. Great live performers, as well.

UPDATE: Curses by Future Of The Left is the second best album of 2007. It is a great record.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is probably the best 2007 film I have seen. It is the most enjoyable film of the year. UPDATE: Hot Fuzz is a pretty fantastic film.

Some of my favorite tracks of 2007 include (there are some covers here):

  • “Furwinked The Lion/Bear Song” by Tereu Tereu, from Feline Ambition
  • “Ed Is A Portal” by Akron/Family, from Love Is Simple
  • “City Of Echoes” by Pelican, from City Of Echoes
  • “The Opposite of Hallelujah” by Jens Lekman, from Night Falls Over Kortedala
  • “We’re All From Barcelona” by I’m From Barcelona, from Let Me Introduce My Friends
  • “I Love The Unknown” by Eef Barzelay, from the Rocket Science motion picture soundtrack
  • “Grizzly Jive” by Georgie James, from Play
  • “Pretty in Pink” by The National, from their Daytrotter Session
  • “Pinklon” and “Ethiopians” by the Mountain Goats, from their Daytrotter Session at SXSW
  • “Pom Pom” by Matthew Dear, from Asa Breed
  • “Daughter” by Loudon Wainwright III, from Strange Weirdos…
  • “Conqueror” by Jesu, from Conqueror
  • “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver, from For Emma, Forever Ago
  • “Brand New Kind Of Actress” by Jason Isbell, from Sirens Of The Ditch
  • “Statues” by Foo Fighters, from Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
  • “I Was Zapped By The Lucky Super Rainbow” by The Flaming Lips, from Good Luck Chuck Soundtrack
  • “In Our Talons” by Bowerbirds, from Hymns For A Dark Horse
  • “Not A Problem” by Black Lips, from Los Valientes del Mundo Nuevo

And of course, the standard indie rock singles were all nice and fine:

  • “The Underdog” by Spoon, from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
  • “Keep The Car Running” and “Neon Bible” by Arcade Fire, from Neon Bible
  • “Thrash Unreal” by Against Me!, from New Wave
  • “Dashboard” by Modest Mouse, from We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
  • “D.A.N.C.E.” by Justice, from † (yes, it’s a catchy song)

Some of my favorite albums of 2007 include (key track/s. If no key tracks that means the album is really, really good.):

  • Let’s Stay Friends by Les Savy Fav
  • A Place To Bury Strangers by A Place To Bury Strangers
  • In Rainbows by Radiohead
  • Armchair Apocrypha by Andrew Bird
  • Challengers by The New Pornographers ( “My Rights Versus Yours,” “Myriad Harbour”)
  • Sing the Greys (2006) by Frightened Rabbit ( “Be Less Rude,” “The Greys”)
  • Era Vulgaris by Queens of the Stone Age ( “Turnin’ On The Screw,” “I’m Designer,” “Misfit Love,” “3’s & 7’s”)
  • Places by Georgie James ( “Cake Parade,” “Need Your Needs”)
  • Casually Smashed To Pieces by the Six Parts Seven ( “Falling Over Evening” <great, great song)
  • From Beale Street To Oblivion by Clutch ( “You Can’t Stop Progress,” “When Vegans Attack”)
  • Graduation by Kanye West ( “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” “Stronger”)
  • Mirrored by Battles
  • It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s The Way You Land by Soulsavers ( “Revival,” “Paper Money,” “Kingdoms Of Rain”)
  • In Our Nature by José González

Notable Albums of 2007 include (they range from good/okay to excellent):

  • Friend Opportunity by Deerhoof ( “+81,” “Believe E.S.P.”)
  • Holy F**k by Holy F**k
  • Nothing Is Underrated by Joe Lally
  • Myth Takes by !!! ( “Must Be The Moon,” “Heart Of Hearts”)
  • HEALTH by HEALTH
  • U.F.O.s At The Zoo – The Legendary Concert In Oklahoma City by The Flaming Lips
  • VI by The F**king Champs
  • All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone by Explosions In The Sky
  • Legendary Demo by Clouds
  • Play Drums + Bass by C.O.C.O.
  • Here Come The Waterworks by Big Business
  • Adrian Orange & Her Friends by Adrian Orange & Her Friends
  • Good Bad Not Evil by Black Lips
  • The Last Days of Rome by Snog
  • Harmonic Tremors by Zozobra
  • Tears of the Valedictorian by Frog Eyes

– R.H.

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