Fat Possum RecordsJohn Lennon once likened styles of rock and roll to different types of chairs. He wanted his music to be basic, solid wood. To use Lennon's analogy, Andrew Bird's new album, Noble Beast, is a deceivingly comfortable chair covered in a polka dotted sheet. If you lift up the edge of the sheet, you realize that you're sitting in a decadent yet delicately patterned creation that isn't a chair at all. You don't quite know what it is.
Bird, whose last record, 2007's Armchair Apocrypha, earned him a spot on several top ten lists, is a musician before he is a rock and roller. Categorically, he's in the same realm as Sufjan Stevens, Loney Dear (who helps on this album), and Elbow: intella-rock, or perhaps geek rock. He sings in palindromes and alliteration about human behavior and environmental apocalypses. Bird backs his clear alto voice with his violin and other instrumentation, as well as an orchestra of talent that includes the likes of bass master Todd Sickafoose and Kelly Hogan, who has collaborated with the likes of Neko Case.
Instantly recognizable on tracks such as opener "Oh No" and "Fitz and Dizzyspells" is Bird's whistling, which is lovely but slightly gimmicky after so many albums. Yes, whistling can get a little annoying. Still, the orchestration and whistles add to the swagger and swank on many tracks of Noble Beast. Others, such as "Masterswarm" quietly reference Nick Drake and, of course, the Beatles. Bird's music is lovely and comforting, but the appreciation of the subtleties of the album comes after sitting with it for a while, if you have the time and don't mind the occasional whistle. -