Release Date: Jan 20, 2009
Record label: Fat Possum
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
It's unlikely that Chicago multiinstrumentalist and whistling maestro Andrew Bird deliberately set out to mark the bicentenary of Charles Darwin's birth with his latest album. And yet, on some level, Noble Beast works as a celebration and a sorrowful evocation of the natural world as closely observed and sumptuously illustrated as any Victorian study. Bird and his 10 collaborators use sound the way the impressionists daubed paint, layering elegiac violin melodies with pattering plucked notes, fuzzy or jangly guitar, clip-clop percussion, clicks and drones to create music that might be straightforwardly folky, brightly poppy or more experimental, but is always vivid and engaging.
Since emerging in the mid 90s Andrew Bird has leapt from genre to genre with aplomb, thrilling fans, critics and fellow musicians alike with his wares. A prodigiously talented violinist, proficient wordsmith and fine singer, he now finds himself in a position where he’s able to blog for the New York Times, ascend to the upper echelons of the US Billboard Chart and record with affiliates such as Wilco and Lambchop. And whistle real good.
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.
Violinist and fancy whistler Andrew Bird is one of music’s most prolific chameleons, having swirled through zydeco and swing before creating an exquisitely baroque genre for himself on 2005’s The Mysterious Production of Eggs and 2007’s Armchair Apocrypha. But Noble Beast veers off into a cheerily nonspecific world of jangly guitars and meandering melodies that evoke everyone from Okkervil River to Radiohead without ever making an impact of their own. By largely ditching beloved personal trademarks like exotic tonalities and that emphatic violin pizzicato, Bird’s suddenly just another member of the flock.
Review Summary: Would you like to play a game of truth or dare Mr. Bird?Every moment that I thought about listening to Andrew Bird during the past few days, my mind wandered around my music library elsewhere. One can take a guess as to what recent album trumped every other album in my library, but Andrew Bird’s album Noble Beast eventually rose above, for at least a few gratifying moments.
The violin has always played a central role in Andrew Bird’s music. That’s not surprising when you consider the fact that Bird first picked up a violin at the age of four. In the 30 or so years since then, however, he’s managed to become proficient at playing a number of other instruments—the guitar, the mandolin, the glockenspiel—and has even mastered both the use of his own voice and the sound of his whistle.
Whistling wonder's latest requires more work than usualAndrew Bird has always been a bit of a showoff. For good reason, though—he’s an incredible violinist and composer, he knows big words like apocrypha, and anyone who can make a human whistle sound like the wind, a voice, a theremin and a saw, might as well prove it. Here, Bird’s arrangements are uncharacteristically subtle.
While seemingly more relaxed than either of Andrew Bird's last two releases, Noble Beast does not present itself nearly as playfully as either. But the album's nuances are so subtle, the layered effects of this composition reveal themselves over time, and even though the back end of the disc is less blatantly engaging as the first few tracks, it still makes for a worthwhile listen. Go ahead and grab your hot mug of organic tea and your thesaurus first before pushing play; we're going to be here a while.Oh No and Masterswarm are the perfect beginning to Bird's follow up to Armchair Apocrypha.
Taking a tip from Madonna, Andrew Bird has apparently concluded that it's better for your career longevity to follow trends than to lead them. So in keeping with the indie rock movement toward a softer and gentler approach, Bird has gone all precious and folky for Noble Beast, with daintily picked ditties that Sufjan Stevens might call quaint. There are some sweet la-la-la bits and a bit of cheery whistling, but nothing jarring or abrasive which might prevent listeners from lapsing into a deep sleep by the sixth track.
When you’re someone as admired and respected as Andrew Bird is, it carries a certain weight and with that, comes great expectations. But when you’re as talented and gifted as Bird is, delivering flawless music goes hand in hand. One also has to remember that the multi-instrumentalist has been making music for many years now. Just recently, he spent a few days blogging for newspapers and delivering fine writing and this was before he teamed with Dosh for 2007’s Armchair Apocrypha.
Word has it Andrew Bird is poised to hit the big time with his eighth album. That’s fine: heaven knows he deserves it, and so does he. Chances are he also knows he’s been ready to hit the big time for about three albums, since The Mysterious Production of Eggs at latest. But it’s inappropriate to expect him to alter or dilute his fidgety NPR-folk symphonies in order to sell more records, which is in turn why it’s not so inappropriate to find in the title of his last EP, Soldier On, a hint of churlish bemusement.
Over the last decade, Chicago's Andrew Bird has created his own lexicon of pop music, layering spells of violin and guitar into novelistic labyrinths. The first half of fifth LP Noble Beast, buoyed by the brief, aqueous interlude "Uou," marks his most exquisite work to date. His Orbison-like croon is pushed to the forefront, guiding the movements, which makes opener "Oh No" and "Tenuousness" sound like jigsaw-puzzle pieces falling into place, gradually unfolding into a much bigger picture, while "Fitz and the Dizzyspells" and "Effigy" mirror the wide-lens grandeur of 2007's Armchair Apocrypha.