When you’re someone as admired and respected as Andrew Bird is, it carries a certain weight and with that, comes great expectations. But when you’re as talented and gifted as Bird is, delivering flawless music goes hand in hand. One also has to remember that the multi-instrumentalist has been making music for many years now. Just recently, he spent a few days blogging for newspapers and delivering fine writing and this was before he teamed with Dosh for 2007’s Armchair Apocrypha. And although he recorded under the “Bowl of Fire” moniker, Noble Beast is his eighth studio album and it’s a welcoming, and welcome, addition to his immense catalog.
Somewhere around the middle of “Nomenclature” is where everything truly hits you. Between the subtle fusion of stomping drums and rousing arrangements there comes a flawless violin solo that is both riveting and poignant. But along the way, you realize that an album of this stature is stacked with these kinds of moments; you just have to hope everyone gets them.
The beauty all over is an exceptional vessel. Bird maneuvers his way through various styles, connecting them all with a brilliant, steady, mix of finger-plucked strings, earnest lyrics that are some of his most direct to date and a whistle here and there. Nothing is as captivating as “The Privateers” where Bird uses every trick in the book to craft a sublime piece of music. Retelling a story filled with love and chance, the music bodes in a heavy balance of growing string arrangements and steady drumming. Bird’s majestic voice soars over everything with an air of confidence and presence that is superb.
And beginning with a lovely whistle and violin, “Souverian” sounds like a song that was created decades ago. But this is what is so endearing about Bird: his choice of instrumentation. Definitely unique, never forced and usually breathtaking, he knows how to pull at your heart strings with the slightest touches. With this epic, seven-minute blessing, the music shifts from piano ballad, back to upbeat tapper, back to piano ballad with expertise control.
While his erstwhile album featured songs that were expanded into true compositional works, Noble Beast is a tighter sounding release. Whether he is delivering those lush string arrangements, melodic strands of music or even just that wistful whistling, this is an album that puts to shame even the finest musician. Bird is in full control and evokes his The Swimming Hour and everyone’s favorite, Mysterious Production of Eggs, days; those days where he did everything on his own. All of the aforementioned allows him to present one of his best albums to date.
There are still the Bird trademarks: the occasional interlude, the resourceful lyrics and even Dosh makes an appearance (“Not a Robot, but a Ghost”) but for the most part, he is focused and prime. “Masterswarm” is built around a stabbing guitar before ripping into a flamenco-infused samba of the best variety. There are also placid gentle songs like “Natural Disaster” wherein Bird is able to portray a traumatic experience with soothing and calming sounds that reflect on what there is still left to live for.
The album is available with a double-disc entitled, Useless Creatures. I haven’t heard it but it is meant to be an all-instrumental working of compositions written by Bird. And I’m pretty sure the title is just Bird’s humility at work because Lord knows he is a true mastermind of music.