RiYL: DeVotchKa, the Shins, Kaki King, whistling
As a longtime yet non-hardcore fan of Andrew Bird, I feel as if I have to approach this review of Noble Beast carefully. Bird’s been in the business for a while: since 1996, he’s banged out an album a year with shocking consistency, almost all of which have met critical acclaim, which is a testament both to his artistic prowess and his apparently inexhaustible creativity glands. What this all boils down to is the notion that Noble Beast is not some sophomoric release from an inexperienced project, but the eleventh album from a well-learned musician. It is finely tuned and, more importantly, deserves respect.
First and foremost, let it be known that there are few contemporary artists that come close to matching the sheer musicality of Andrew Bird; the Chicago native is well versed in violin, guitar, mandolin, and glockenspiel (not to mention his peerless whistling abilities). Each track is carefully composed in a thoughtful, planned-out way in such a fashion that the individual tracks contribute a sense of nobility to the album as a whole — and indeed, the album functions almost solely as a whole unit as opposed to the individual parts that make it up. The opening track, “Oh No,” opens the door on the album with Shins-esque vocals and a playful whistling melody that would be right at home in a meadow in Spring. The ensuing tracks, most notably “Fitz and Dizzyspells” and “Not a Robot but a Ghost,” alter the mood of the album, which is to say that the individual tracks don’t necessarily fit together but do a fantastic job complementing each other, which is a much greater feat.
For example, the last two tracks on the album, “Souverian” and “On Ho!” are pretty dissimilar in terms of composition. “Souverian” is a sweeping epic at seven minutes long and focuses more on Bird’s vocals and songwriting ability. In contrast, “On Ho!” is a simple instrumental track, clocking in under a minute, and functions more along the lines of the Noble Beast‘s cordial goodbye as the string quartet sings off into silence. Standing alone, side by side, the tracks, are functional, but in the bigger picture, they’re puzzle pieces, fitting perfectly.
Noble Beast isn’t really a departure from Bird’s previous works, per se; it’s more suiting to call it the next step in his musical career. It is decidedly the same kind of music that came from his brain in years past, and it has the same feel and cadence to it, just like siblings from the same parent reflect each other. However, as Bird’s latest and most mature brainchild, Noble Beast is its own creature and is decidedly different from, say, Armchair Apocrypha, which is notably more down-tuned and less refined.
The most notable offense I can raise against Noble Beast is that it just isn’t for everybody. It is great music, to be sure, but it is decidedly unfitting with the times — this kind of music would do far better on the porch of a Southern mansion in any other time than now, and to put it quite simply, Bird’s charm can’t affect everyone, as much as it deserves to. However, if being swept off your feet by choruses and melodies that are almost gentlemanly in their charm happens to be your thing, then Noble Beast will serve you well.