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Andrew Bird - Noble Beast (2009) Retail CD
Having recently caught many people's attention on the live music TV show, From The Basement, Andrew Bird's captivating performance whetted the appetite for his fifth solo studio album, Noble Beast. The intimate nature of the performance showcased Bird's greatest assets: a closed-eyes intensity, complex multi-instrument sonic landscaping and intoxicating lyricism. Bird's signature one-man-band innovation (he executes his songs solo with the help of loop pedals) coupled with his eerie whistling forays made for an engaging experience. The slight concern with Noble Beast is whether or not it can bemore… as affecting as the live performance and whether or not its fourteen tracks are too ambitious or too dense to enjoy.
If there is one criticism that could be levelled against the classically-trained Andrew Bird, it is that his melodies often meander aimlessly rather than going in the direction you expected them to. Obvious chorus opportunities seem to come into conflict with Bird's intellect and creative craftsmanship. However, this is really a minor irritation and if Andrew Bird was in any way compliant, he would not be nearly as intriguing. Happily, Noble Beast sees Bird eschew his obvious proclivity towards the musically abstruse in favour of more melodious ventures. The format is still the same though: scholarly lyricism and eccentric storytelling of loneliness and yearning dovetailed by Bird's intrinsically sorrowful, but always warming, compositions.
Right from the off it is clear that Bird is not for pigeon holing. Whereas opening track Oh No juxtaposes a string-laden jazz introduction with upbeat claps and whistles verse and chorus borrowed from Belle and Sebastian, Masterswarm places you straight on the Mexican-American border with Ennio Morricone atmospherics and Calexico-like mood swings. The constant hopping from genre to genre does take time to get used to but this in itself is quite a pleasurable bind.
Tenuosness is a clear stand out - its weave of intricate poetry ("Tenuous at best was all he had to say / When pressed about the rest of it the world that is / From proto-Sanskrit Minoans to Porto-centric Lisboans / Greek Cypriots and and harbour-sorts who hang around in ports a lot") complimented by a haunting string composition. Nomenclature also impresses; its subtle tale about a life of isolation soon transforms itself into a jolting, angry protest.
The album's highlight is its final quartet of tracks proper (the real final track being an instrumental closer). Anonanimal's surprising Radiohead-style chorus - the first time Noble Beast grabs you by the shirt collar - is perhaps an indication that Bird is willing to attract a wider audience that requires the comforting appearance of an electric guitar, although Bird doesn't exactly stomp on the reverb pedal for very long. The Privateers sense of young optimism again recalls Tigermilk-era Belle and Sebasitan, providing a more immediate appeal to the casual listener. Natural Disaster is one of Noble Beast's most delicate moments. Bird's folk roots are clearly apparent throughout but it is this track's subtle sing-along pretensions that are most endearing. If Bird never quite goes into Hey Jude territory, this song may be as near as he ever ventures. The beautiful crescendo chorus of Souverian soars, pauses for breath and builds once more. It is a heartbreaking way to end this record and while drowned in misery it may be, Bird has his own way of making the whole thing sound almost appealing.
With Noble Beast, Andrew Bird has - in his own inimitable, esoteric fashion - created something equally beautiful, mesmeric and enlightening. Welcome are the tambourine taps, occasional hand clapping sessions and female backing vocals, all of which help to lubricate Bird's raw, obscure subject matter and unusual, if not unpalatable, arrangements. Bird's sound is now more focused and for the first time he has produced an album characterised not by its frustrating, if likeable eccentricity, but by its roundedness and accessibility.
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- Andrew Bird - Noble Beast (2009) Retail CD
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- 12/08/09 by Leffe Hagen
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