Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Review: Andrew Bird - "Noble Beast"

Published on January 29, 2009 in The Red & Black


On "Noble Beast," Bird dials down the volume, exploring a quiet, leisurely channel of songwriting he hinted at on previous albums but never fully embraced.

As the pastoral album art suggests, the songs that comprise "Noble Beast" sport a style steeped in the folk tradition, unfolding at a serene pace.

Unfortunately, this method will not likely capture new listeners' attention, or please those expecting the more elaborate side of Bird seen on "Armchair Apocrypha" and "The Mysterious Production of Eggs."

This aside, the quality of the album's material cannot be ignored. Bird weaves a variety of instruments into his songs, adding subtle nuance. The solemn, elegant "Effigy" begins with tense, uneasy violin that drifts around an accordion dirge, and "Masterswarm" is propelled by a faint Latin rhythm, echoed in the prominent use of the guiro.

Perhaps not the best leadoff candidate, "Oh No" is pleasant but not quite remarkable - its whistled melody not enough to truly distinguish it from the pack.

After a deceptive beginning, "Nomenclature" provides the first truly blistering moment, with strands of distorted guitar and violin tearing through a frantic drum earthquake. After the brief lull of "ouo," "Not a Robot, But a Ghost" stands as the utterly intense centerpiece of an otherwise placid musical tapestry.

The remainder of "Noble Beast" continues peacefully, with the sorrowful, downbeat epic "Souverian" being the most memorable of the cut, and Bird's signature lyrical wordplay finally shines forth on "Anonanimal."

Each of "Noble Beast"'s 14 songs is masterfully composed and arranged, yet so professionally executed that it blends into an immaculate but not quite captivating whole.

But for all of Bird's preoccupations with arrangement and structure - a not-so-unusual trait for classically trained musicians - "Noble Beast" benefits from a natural, almost rustic aura stemming from its refreshingly relaxed pace.

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