27 January 2009

Andrew Bird - Noble Beast

Andrew Bird is as delightfully neurotic about musical perfectionism as they come. Over the last nine months or so, he blogged meticulously for the New York Times about the gestation period of his 11th album, ‘Noble Beast’ – partially recorded in Wilco’s studio, inspired by the helplessness of children crying on planes, and deliciously obsessed with the consonance of words, even making them up, if need be, to rumble pleasingly down his ornate, violin-led beautiful songs.

As the sun rises over opener ‘Oh No’ (influenced by aforementioned child), it becomes clear that the production on ‘Noble Beasts’ is towed by clarity; crisp and nurturing of the warmly defined sounds within, particularly the percussion – every kick-drum thump resonates accordingly, and every ting tickles the ear, whilst its idyllic, vintage string opening conjures images Van Dyke Parks soundtracking a 1940s Disney film. ‘Masterswarm’ could be Rufus Wainright covering Nick Drake’s ‘Bryter Layter’ era, powered by ticking handclaps and a skittering violin, in constant conversation with the more grounded, mature cello parts. “This is sure to misspell disaster”, he eloquently mumbles, highlighting his flair for clever (but never clichéd) lyrics.

On ‘Tenousness’ (one of his many experiments with word construction), Bird comes across like the late Arthur Russell, making African-influenced guitar twangs chatter with pastoral English-sounding folk, whilst still remaining the intrinsic, yet trickily indefinable qualities of intelligent American alternative music. He often plays a trick that chews its way into the depths of your soul, without you being able to articulate why such a simple guitar line has such an effect – take ‘Anonanimal’, where his biological mutterings lollop into each other, an elegiac, sophisticated tongue-twister atop a pensive drum and needle sharp xylophone and strings.

Equally affecting is ‘Souverian’, which Bird himself confessed to Drowned in Sound that it remained a mystery to him – his master instrument shudders as he whistles across a desolate landscape that Cormac McCarthy might be proud of, breaking into a conversational piano line which knows it’s all over; Souverian has gone. His ability to transform language burns to a piercing, mournful cry; his Chicago accent filtering through like smoke trails. Although ‘Noble Beast’ was born from Bird’s neuroses and uncertainty, he should rest easy that it’s certain to grow gratefully-received into the lives of many.


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