Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Album review: Andrew Bird-Noble Beast

Andrew Bird is one of the few musicians who has managed to mystify me. After listening to his eclectic, but still listenable, music over the better part of a year, I still don't feel like he can be categorized. Is it rock? Is it pop? Is it classical music inspired pop-rock? Does it even matter? All I really care about is that the man knows how to write a song that is at once easily consumed and also complex. That being said, his new album, Noble Beast, continues his tradition of making music that is simultaneously familiar and confusing.

While superficially easy to listen to, as with any Andrew Bird album, if you look a little closer, you'll realize that Noble Beast doesn't rely upon any tried and true formulas. Sure, many "rock" and "pop" albums feature stringed instruments, but how many are composed and performed by true virtuosos (he's been playing the violin since the age of four)? The fact that he's so proficient at this, and many other instruments, makes his music that much more interesting than the standard fare. That's not to say that he's a self-indulgent show off; any "virtuoso" type passage is done completely tastefully, and works to complement the song, rather than to draw attention to itself.

One way I would describe this album is that it contains many moments of totally unexpected changes, that somehow don't sound at all out of place. The song that best captures this is "Effigy", which is a pretty standard folk-waltz number for the most part. Then, out of nowhere, a hoedown-worthy fiddle riff kicks in, and you feel like you're in a barn down south. Although this moment catches the listener completely off guard, the sound is the opposite of awkward. It's almost like he's saying "well of course this is the perfect song to put a thick violin hook into; can't you see that? Here, I'll show you". He takes something that you wouldn't ever expect to hear in such a setting, and makes you think that anything is possible.

Such feelings made this an incredibly hard album to review. I can literally say that each and every song is the equal of its' successor. There are no standout tracks, but it doesn't mean that he hasn't written a great collection of songs. It just means that he's written an album, rather than individual songs meant for seperate consumption. And in this day and age, isn't that nice to hear?

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