Review Summary: Lousy Smarch weather.
February sucks in Canada, winter is in its latter stages but spring is still a little too far off in the distance. This dreary nowhere that we Ontarionites must endure has brought a sense of musical ambiguity to me. You see it was recently my birthday, huzzah Further, I received a 120 Gb iPod for this occasion, double huzzah Yet, there I was sitting on the bus heading to class today, scrolling through my various artists with absolutely no clue as to what I should listen to. Winter has overstayed its welcome, so albums like Bon Iver’s “For Emma” or Do Make Say Thinks “Winter Hymn”, considered perfect ‘winter albums’, did not appeal to me. Alternately, I looked upon the bright ‘summer albums’ of Fleet Foxes debut or Built to Spill’s “Keep It Like A Secret” as unwelcome reminders of how crumby the weather is. Sure the music is all good, but I just wasn’t feeling it, man. When it comes right down to it, there are only three albums I can really listen to at the moment with any sort of regularity. Okkervil River’s “Black Sheep Boy” and Kayo Dot’s “Dowsing Anemone” present the first two thirds of the tripod, with the third leg belonging to Andrew Bird’s newest release, “Noble Beast”. Perhaps it was a mix of timing and the timeless.
Andrew Bird’s music has always been about subtlety and melody. The term ‘grower’ gets tossed around a little too liberally these days, but it fits perfectly for Bird’s music. While I wouldn’t necessary consider his previous albums as immediately accessible, they certainly seem that way compared to “Noble Beast”. The album is drenching in melody, which intertwines, counters and plays around within itself throughout the album. The more predominant role of the violin aids in the lush melodic sound. Bird is a wonderful violinist, so I don’t mind the stronger presence of the violin at all. Look no further then album highlight “Effigy” to see this proof in the figurative pudding. Starting off with an east-coast tinged intro featuring pizzicato and a fiddle like passage looped underneath a short violin solo. This fades away into the central hook played on an acoustic guitar. The short violin solo in the middle of the song is possibly the best moment on the album as it takes an interesting variation on the vocal melody. Similar impressive displays of the violin can be found on the epic “Souverian” or the proceeding outro “On Ho ”. From a technical perspective, the music is very good. “Masterswarm” features an interesting, shifting composition, while the rest of the album boasts wonderful singing, instrumental work, and of course, whistling (Bird is probably the best whistler I have ever heard.)
What makes the album so immediately daunting is the lesser use of recognizable indie-pop that was prevalent on his past albums. Most of the album features a lot of classically influenced violin passages with acoustic guitar work and minimal drumming. Bird smartly leaves room for the poppier tracks on the album. “Fitz & Dizzyspells” is the first example of the catchy radio-friendly tunes that could be heard on the first half of his album “Armchair Apocrypha”. Similarly, “Not A Robot, But A Ghost” picks up the tempo at the half-way point of the album, this time with a strong electronic, drum-machine pulse. Towards the end of the album, “The Privateers” is a fun, building stomp that breaks up the slower “Natural Disaster” and “Souverian”. This faster paced tracks are very necessary, as they provide the listener with a sort of wake up call. The album at time suffers from a bit too much subtlety, as it can become slightly tedious at moments. For the most part, the melodies make up for this tediousness, and these melodies are generally provided by some excellent violin work.
To revert back to my original point, why this album has been able to stick around during this period of ambiguity. It simply has that certain subtle quality like every other Andrew Bird release. It also has the sleepy beauty that a solid ‘winter album’ has while at the same time there are a few ‘summer time’ tracks sprinkled in for good measure. The melodies are always interesting and take time to be fully appreciated. It’s an album that begs to be listened to more then one time, it demands to be given room to grow. Perhaps this is ultimately why this particular album appeals to me during the doldrums of February. I’ve had peaks at spring and warm weather, but those stupid Great Lakes keep giving me more snow. So in conclusion, February still sucks, I’m tired of winter, and lake effect snow sucks. Andrew Birds pretty good though.