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Noble Beast

Andrew Bird

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Album Review

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. What follows is a typically eclectic batch of material that reflect Bird's own musical time line. Tracks like "Masterswarm" and "Not a Robot, But a Ghost" are proof positive that he hasn't completely abandoned his swing jazz roots, "Fitz and the Dizzyspells" could very well provide audiences with their first opportunity to "bust a move" at a show, while "Nomenclature"'s easy country-folk front half dissolves into a rear end that wouldn't seem out of place on a late-'90s Radiohead album. Throughout it all Bird rhymes — sometimes to a fault — like a history or biology professor ("From proto-Sanskrit Minoans to porto-centric Lisboans"), rendering many of the songs clever as opposed to emotionally resonant, but whatever romance he lacks in the textual medium he more than makes up for in melody. [The deluxe version of the album includes an impressive bonus disc of instrumental works, cleverly titled Useless Creatures, which features collaborations with Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche and jazz bassist Todd Sickafoose.]

Biography

Born: 11 July 1973 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Chicago singer/songwriter/violinist Andrew Bird updates the traditions of small-group swing, German lieder, and New Orleans jazz, mixing Gypsy, folk, and rock elements into his distinctive style. Bird's projects include his group the Bowl of Fire (which also includes drummer Kevin O'Donnell, bassist Josh Hirsch, and guitarist Colin Bunn) and performing as an auxiliary member of the Squirrel Nut Zippers; in turn, the Zippers' Katharine Whalen and James Mathus appeared on the Bowl of Fire albums Thrills...
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Noble Beast, Andrew Bird
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