In recent years there has been an endless stream of male singer/songwriters oozing out gentle melodies plucked from delicate guitars and swirling with rich, textural strings and I'm quite honestly bored of the lot of them. Andrew Bird, however, provides exactly what i've just described but has always stood head and shoulders above the rest. His 2007 album Armchair Apocrypha won him critical acclaim across the board and topped many 'best of' lists that year. It was the album that lifted his sound way above his previous work and uncovered a wealth of ideas that had until then remained relatively unexplored. Noble Beast does however return somewhat to the earlier, less flamboyant sound of albums like Weather Systems. It's much more subdued in both tone and scale compared to Armchair Apocrypha but like all his work it is filled with warmth and a musical texture that surpasses most.
As a multi-instrumentalist, Bird meticulously constructs the densest musical backgrounds and Noble Beast excels in this area. With some of the skyward intentions toned down here compared to 2007 each song is given the time and space to explore this multi-layered and rich texture. This beauty is seen from the very first note. Opener Oh No introduces this record with Birds trademark whistles and assumes a rather jovial, jaunty tempo while dealing with the theme of pure terror. Inspired by a flight he took while sat next to a wailing child Bird says of the experience "I was struck by the mournfulness of this kid's wail. He just kept crying 'Oh no' in a way that only someone who is certain of their own demise could." And here lies the dichotomy in Birds work and one of the many answers to my earlier question of why he stands so proud of his singer/songwriter piers. Musically this album drips with cosy warmth and yet features some of his most deranged lyrical content ever. Stories of kittens with pleurisy and grown men living inside his body Bird creates here a work of infinitely evolving detail.
This record has some of the longest songs he's ever made. At over six and a half minutes Masterswarm frequently changes direction and with the luxury of time manages to drift off into blissful instrumental segments ultimately fading out to the sound of the rhythmic handclap beat as filtered through an effects program that could be from the Thom Yorke portfolio. Many of these songs feature Bird's enthusiasm for subtle experimentation such as this. Not A Robot, But A Ghost has some gloriously intricate and homemade percussion as its rhythm section that morphs with twitchy laptop beats to form a driving swarm of rhythm that propels the song along at a pace that the afore mentioned Thom Yorke would be proud to call his own.
Recorded partly in Nashville and partly at the Wilco Loft in Chicago this record couldn't fail to be a triumph, and a triumph it certainly is. It's slow burning but its depths are unfathomable at this early stage. It's a worthy follow up to 2007's impressive work and features some of this artists finest compositions. Some of them are so perfect they are in danger of being consumed by the advertising monsters but the ones that escape this pitfall will stick with you for a very long time.
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The Lost Take
Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk
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