Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Noble Beasts

Today, the amazing Sofia Ortiz writes a blog post about Andrew Bird's album, "Noble Beasts." I have long been interested in Andrew Bird, and this review has convinced me to go out and buy the record. Enjoy...

If ever there were a musical paradox, Andrew Bird would be it. For decades, the Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist has been challenging the limits of genre and composition while maintaining a unique sound that is unmistakably and undeniably his own. So it should come as no surprise that his fifth full-length studio album, Noble Beast (2009, Fat Possum Records)* breaks the mold once again.

In an article written for The New York Times in 2008, Mr. Bird explains that he writes his songs backwards; the melodies come first, words second. This seems like a minute detail until one stops to absorb the lyrics of the album’s first track, Oh No. (“Past the silver bridge/Oh the silver bridge/ Wearing nothing but a onesie and a veil”). The rhythm and syncopation of the arrangement meshes near-perfectly with the enunciation of the lyrics, yet there is no theme, nor is there a linear point of reference for them; they are not what we’re here for.

Although all of Andrew Bird’s albums exhibit creative musicianship, Noble Beasts is a prime example of his evolution as an artist. Occasionally, a song from a previous album will be repurposed later on, or part of a song will become the basis for another. Such is the case with the album’s twelfth track, The Privateers. Its predecessor is The Confession, which was released in 1997 (Oh! The Grandeur, Rykodisc). Both share almost identical lyrics, yet reflect such different thought processes and inspirations. It is evident that the former comes from Mr. Bird’s early-jazz roots; the latter, more loyal to his current audio-collage-laden alternative flamboyance. Yet there lingers a sense of nostalgia when the two are heard in succession. Other similarities occur throughout his discography, but none seem to be quite as prevalent.

It should be noted that much of Andrew Bird’s style comes from extensive looping (the process of recording a very small segment, repeating it, and then recording complementary melodies over top to achieve a sort of layering effect). His instrument of choice is his violin, which he proves to have mastered time and time again, as well as his impressive whistling ability. An alternate version of Noble Beasts’ “Tenuousness” illustrates this for those who are convinced that “seeing is believing”. The album is a boast-worthy piece of work that not only captivates the listener, but entices and fascinates them as well. Will the next one be as eclectic or original? To quote the lyrics of Wait, (Oh! The Grandeur):

“Wait a little and listen.”

*Noble Beasts was originally released as a double album, with nine bonus instrumentals following the main tracks. They were eventually re-released as a separate album, Useless Creatures, in October of 2010.

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