Artist: Andrew Bird
Label: Fat Possum
Due Out: 1/20
Calm, cool and collected. It's probably the best possible way for me to describe Andrew Bird's latest effort, Noble Beast. It stays centered- the highs never get too high, and the lows never get too low. Overall, Noble Beast becomes a sonic experience which leaves you feeling mellow and relaxed, yet fully engaged in the scenic wilderness that seemly surrounds you. This album, similar to the previously discussed Merriweather Post Pavillion, is already contending (and rightfully so) for a spot on this year's best albums list.
We start with the bright and charming "Oh No". The track more than does its job, setting the mood for the enjoyable and pleasant 14-track experience awaiting you. A nice acoustic feel, mixed with an appropriately-placed whistle, ease you in, and set the stage for what you're about to hear- what more can you ask from an introduction track? Bird progresses from this point to a more lively, yet lighter mood on the following track, "Masterswarm," grabbing a southwestern feel. The whistling, which is a constant on the record, helps create the desert illusion, as does what sounds like a mariachi backing and a flowing string contribution.
What struck me immediately about Noble Beast were two things- its maintenance of the southwestern feel it establishes so early, and its similarity to the earlier work of Belle and Sebastian. Not to say that the sounds are exactly alike, but if you set B&S' If You're Feeling Sinister to more of a desert flair, chances are it would be a fair resemblance. Besides the music, you'll find some similar themes, as Bird spends a lot of time here seeming to tear himself down, referring to himself as a sociopath, among other citations of his perceived character flaws. Perhaps the album's title is an illusion to Bird's sense of self? I can't say, but it's probably not a bad idea. As far as continuity goes (and those who have read my reviews before know that I'm a stickler for it), this record scores an A from me. Bird maintains the aforementioned mood throughout, differing enough to keep it interesting, but not always enough to be conscious of the track change- which, if done right, can be a positive trait.
On a record full of dynamics in a box, so to speak, no track seems to have the execution of "Not a Robot, But a Ghost". The high tempo start, complete with clarinet and the samba transition, blends into an engaging, yet mellow song, throwing the full range of the album's instrumentation at you in the span of the track's 5:37. I hate to start throwing out year-end prediction already, but everything about this song makes me think you'll be seeing it down the road (here, at least) as one of the standouts of 2009.
Whether you're in the mood for a fun record, or one that just allows you to relax, Noble Beast seems to provide the best medicine. With each listen, the landscapes become more distinct, and the instrumentation more vivid. Looking at the cover of the album, you can't help but be transported to that place, a seemingly never-ending and barren meadow, devoid of human contact- it's a truly wonderful experience. When purchasing the record, be sure to get the deluxe edition, as it includes Useless Creatures, a charming set of instrumental tracks, which lives up to the regular album set, and is also highly recommended. Comparisons for this one include older Belle and Sebastian (as mentioned earlier), Beirut and Sufjan Stevens.
Best Track: "Not a Robot, But a Ghost"