Record #13: Andrew Bird – Noble Beast (2009)

Somewhere between 2007 and 2009, Andrew Bird faced the challenge of following a nearly perfect record (because let’s be frank; Armchair Apocrypha is very truly nearly perfect).

During that time, he must have sat down and made lists about what worked (just about everything) and what didn’t (just about nothing), because he returned with Noble Beast, which offers more of every good part of Armchair.

The compositions are stronger (with naturally twisting turns through a song’s structure) the instrumentation is even more expertly arranged (more strings, violins, and drum machines, all used to the exact proper amount), and even more cleverly written and expertly delivered lyrics (“I see a sea anemone/The enemy/See a sea anemone/And that’ll be the end of me.” See also: the juxtaposition of “Souverian” and “so very young”).

This record is also much more theatrical in scope than Armchair, with songs ranging from the relaxed pop classicism of opener “Oh No” to the Radiohead shuffle of “Not A Robot, But A Ghost,” to the beat-driven melancholy of the self-effacing “Anonanimal” to the pizzicato bounce of “Tenuousness” to the alt-country waltz of “Effigy.” Sometimes, these changes occur in the same song, like in “Masterswarm.” A modest orchestra of looped strings and woodwinds appears several times throughout the record to swoop the listener from one track to another, and the end result is magnificent.

The largest benefactor to this Noble Beast’s success is Andrew Bird’s matured sense of melody. There are a number of times in the album where the first appearance of a melodic theme will have you scratching your head asking, “wasn’t this melody two songs back?” Bird so masterfully creates his musical exploration this time around that it will sound novel and familiar from the first listen to the hundredth.

Upon this record’s release, a friend of mine wrote simply, “Noble Beast indeed.” I couldn’t agree more.

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