Music Review: Andrew Bird – Noble Beast

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Andrew Bird’s latest release, Noble Beast, comes after Armchair Apocrypha, an album that released to positive reviews, but didn’t introduce anything that he hadn’t been doing for the last few albums. Noble Beast doesn’t abandon any long-held Bird traditions, but seasoned fans will find plenty to differentiate Noble Beast from the rest of Bird’s highly regarded catalog. Besides taking a needed sidestep from the last few albums, Noble Beast excells in several areas, making it an immediate contender for not only one of the best albums of 2009, but perhaps the best album in the Andrew Bird catalog.

Listeners will immediately find that Bird’s latest contains less pop melodies than many of his past efforts; it will be a while longer before you’re singing along to these songs. That’s not to say the songwriting suffers in any way, in fact it has matured if anything. The melodies are generally more relaxed and collected, but still very characteristic of what Andrew Bird fans have come to expect. That said, a few catchier tunes still surface, such as the easy going rocker “Fitz and Dizzyspells,” in which Bird urges us to “soldier on,” as recalled from his previous EP. Overall, Noble Beast is possibly Bird’s most consistant and mature display of songwriting to date.

Of course, Bird has more skills than songwriting under his belt, and on none of his releases do they shine more brightly than on Noble Beast. The music is fantastically lush, varied, relaxing and invigorating, and is what will undoubtedly propel Noble Beast from amongst the majority of the albums that are to come in 2009. Matters start off seemingly without much ambition on the opening track, “Oh No”, but complexity elegantly unfolds on the next track, “Masterswarm”. At six and a half minutes, it is a drawn out track with almost minimal instrumentation, but is relentlessly interesting. The next track, the previously mentioned “Fitz and Dizzyspells”, is upbeat and offers plenty of joyride potential. “Effigy”, one of the many highlights on the album, opens with a rippling trickle of strings that makes way for some floating guitar that would do Phil Keaggy proud. “Tenuousness” and “Nomenclature” are relatively uneventful, but are nevertheless strong tracks that continue the momentum and offer up their own distinct moments of beauty. The near-silent “Ouo” follows, and is the first mistep on the album, but is thankfully so short that it doesn’t disrupt the album. “Not a Robot, But a Ghost” opens with a light percussion and transorms into a scurrying track with an almost Spanish guitar lick supporting Bird’s always dynamic voice. The track brings some nice variety that listeners would have begun to wish for were a more ordinary track in its place. After a moving string section with Bird’s wistful whistling soaring over the top, and “Unfolding Fans”, a brief but lovely instrumetal track, “Anonanimal” hits, the strongest song on the album. Several movements take place within the four and a half minutes alotted to the song, including a series of quickly mumbled/sung lyrics, a gorgeous string section exceeding the already remarkable rest of the album, and a rocking finale. If the song has any fault, it’s that it ends too quickly, which only speaks to how enjoyable what’s there is. Next is “Natural Disaster”, an accoustic based song accentuated by various snippets of various instruments. It works very well but doesn’t stray from any established formula. “The Privateers” is the weakest song on the album, only because it’s the most ‘normal’ sounding, and displays the least ambition since the first track. There’s nothing wrong with the song itself, but it doesn’t stand out. “Souverian” essentially closes the album with the appropriate mellow yet epic sound characterizing the album. “On Ho!” is an unnesecary instrumental short, but like “Ouo” doesn’t harm the album’s flow in any way.

In summary, Noble Beast finds Andrew Bird at his most relaxed, and yet most ambitious. His songwriting continues to improve, the vocals are as strong as ever, and the music is truly remarkable. This is certainly among Bird’s best, and should prove highly enjoyable for hardcore and casual fans alike. Oh, and there’s lots of whistling too.

Final Score: 9.0/10

Highlights: Masterswarm, Fitz and Dizzyspells, Effigy, Not A Robot But A Ghost, Anonanimal

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