Andrew Bird Noble Beast(Fat Possum / Bella Union) Buy it from Insound
While seemingly more relaxed than either of Andrew Bird's last two releases, Noble Beast does not present itself nearly as playfully as either. But the album's nuances are so subtle, the layered effects of this composition reveal themselves over time, and even though the back end of the disc is less blatantly engaging as the first few tracks, it still makes for a worthwhile listen. Go ahead and grab your hot mug of organic tea and your thesaurus first before pushing play; we're going to be here a while.
Oh No and Masterswarm are the perfect beginning to Bird's follow up to Armchair Apocrypha. Poignant whistling, catchy melodies, and a steady-handed production that doesn't lambaste the listener with too many layers. Masterswarm is somewhat of a nuanced take on the Tropicalia movement played through the filter of a classically trained violinist. It begins softly resting on the aural palette before it picks up some speed. To me, this is the sound of Bird either warming up, or settling in, and either way, I'm left wanting a bit more.
The fourth track, Effigy proves to be more to my liking, kicking off with a plucky violin loop, and then blossoming into a archetypal Bird composition, hearkening back to 2007's Armchair Apocrypha. After seeing Bird's last tour, this is the sound I anticipated.
The next two songs work hand in hand. Tenuousness is a tension builder, whose noisy payoff is saved for Nomenclature, and it's obvious that a lot of thought went into the sequencing of this record. However, if you're paying too close attention, it can all be a bit hard to swallow. It ebbs and flows a bit too often. Following Bird's stellar vocabulary can also be slightly headache-inducing, and if you want a more verbose take on what Bird is singing about, you may want to ask someone else; I majored in Architecture. But this wouldn't be an Andrew Bird record without a few tracks that give a nod to saving the planet (Fits and Dizzyspells, Natural Disaster). I'll let you try and figure the rest out.
After all that, we're only halfway through, and the 20-second Ouo serves as a foreboding instrumental intermission, quickly prepping the listener for what comes next.
But the second half of the recording is a bit forgettable. Not a Robot, But a Ghost's digitally altered fuzzy rhythm, backing Bird's quirky warble, comes off as a bit awkward.
Unfolding Fans then leads into my favorite track Anonanimal. Clever wordplay, a nice crescendo near the middle, and a healthy layering of tracks near the end. Mysterious Production of Eggs was chock full of these tunes, and it's reassuring that they're still part of Bird's repertoire. This is the only standout moment of the second side.
Natural Disaster and The Privateers are far less engaging than what we've come to expect, and Souverian and Oh Ho! aren't quite the killer closers that I was expecting. That is, until I realized that if you were bold enough to put the record on repeat, the carefully placed swells and lulls in the tempo help Beast work better as a cipher or a Mobius Strip.
In the end, the record is needlessly complex, and lacks the virility that was evident on Eggs and Armchair. It also makes me a bit seasick with all the changing gears. There certainly isn't a lack of beautifully crafted, well produced music on this release, but if you're looking for a full plate of pop-inspired power ballads, stick to the last two discs.