Plumbiferous Media

Noble Beast – Andrew Bird

Jan 25th 2009
One Comment
Andrew Bird - Noble BeastAndrew Bird
Noble Beast
Score: 74

In “Imitosis,” from Andrew Bird’s last album, Armchair Apocrypha, Bird sang the lines: “what’s mistaken for closeness / Is just a case of mitosis.” Any artist using those lines would probably just be looking for a clever rhyme, but those words become two of the most important lines of the track. And if you think that’s the only high point for lyrics on the album, well frankly, you need to listen to the album again. Andrew Bird produces generally amazing music with his masterful lyrics and interesting, yet carefully placed violin, an unlikely, but fitting instrument. But despite his penchant for musical greatness, we found his new album, Noble Beast, to be a mixed bag, or really, an unmixed bag:

Bird’s lyrics on Noble Beast follow his normal style – they’re complex, wordy, occasionally hard to follow, and quite honestly excellent. Bird has the art of wordplay down perfectly, and his careful, allegorical lyrics weave intricate stories over the music. Whether Bird is considering the “harmless sociopaths,” fascinating in their innate contradiction, suggesting a different “nomenclature” in the song of that title, or mourning the enigmatic “Souverian,” significance beyond a simple reading is obviously present. Bird uses this expanse of meaning to develop a great web of lyrics far more tangled than most artists could hope to create. His delicate, multi-faceted vocals serve to tell his stories beautifully, and, along with his expert whistling, serve as an instrument just as valuable as his ever-present, yet amazingly manageable violin. The only fault here then is in a distinct lack of variation – there can be, after all, too much of a good thing.

Instrument-wise, Bird is, as always, constantly on point throughout the album. The problem is that in this case, constantly on point means just that – constant. A number of the tracks, especially near the beginning, have some repetitive note or short sequence played over and over. While this might not be a problem on its own, these notes are at almost exactly the same tempo in each track this occurs. Towards the end the tracks once again very noticeably encounter the problem of being far too close for comfort. And sadly, the tracks that break this pattern have problems of their own. “Effigy” starts well but drags and becomes far too predictable. “Not a Robot, But a Ghost” has percussion that can only be described as annoying, from the squelching sounds in the intro to the distorted mess throughout the rest of the track. There are some tracks, most notably “Anonanimal,” that reveal the Andrew Bird that we all wish we could have heard throughout the album, but for the most part Noble Beast is severely lacking in the instrumental ingenuity that one normally expects from Bird.

Overall, Noble Beast is a bit tricky to write about. There are so many great, detailed elements in Noble Beast, from the quite unexpected start to the melody in “Masterswarm” and the laid back glissandos in “Nomenclature,” to the welcome interludes, “ouo” and “Unfolding Fans,” and the impressive unison between the vocals and violin halfway through “Anonanimal.” And yet, Noble Beast is severely handicapped by a general sameness that overcomes the album, to the point of strangling the ingenuity that often fills it.

Andrew Bird isn’t at his best here, but even a decent album from Andrew Bird is a good thing. On Noble Beast, Bird weaves a web of lyrical complexity above a solid – though by no means outstanding – musical backbone. What the tracks badly need then is variation – they blend together far too easily and are often difficult to tell apart. Noble Beast has some great tracks, but as an album it’s often too slow to be truly engaging and much too indistinguishable to be truly excellent.

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One Response

  1. Alexander Matheson says:

    Damn good site- in design, aim, thoughtful, relevant, and useful content, and execution. You’ve gotten a casual observer six reviews deep. Good balance between the well-known- or rather, widely-trumpeted, and the undeservingly (or not) obscure.
    Now, publicize yourselves! I cannot underscore the importance of this enough.
    To assemble such an useful body of work and then to allow it to remain unknown- well, I know that’s not your intent! Nevertheless, consider condensing the aim and focus of this project into a marketable slogan, and then plaster, digitally or not.
    You’ll undoubtedly be influencing the tracks I spin on air. Keep it going!
    Be well, and peace be.

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