Andrew Bird “Noble Beast

Alex Schaaf

Many things in life come and go. Relationships, the weather, the quality of Fox’s “24”: these things are variable and unpredictable.
But some things are constant and reliable. A prime example: Andrew Bird. Very few modern musicians have matched his level of consistency in terms of turning out a solid release every time he ventures into the studio. From 2001’s “The Swimming Hour” to 2007’s “Armchair Apocrypha,” Bird has maintained a high level of critical acclaim for each of his releases while resisting the temptation to become more “commercial” and “accessible” as time goes on.
“Noble Beast,” his newest offering, proves his consistency and then some. Not only does it prove he is still capable of releasing albums that are highly acclaimed by both the critics and the public, but it shows that he is still on the upwards arc of his career, rather than descending from an unmatchable high. Is “Noble Beast” his best work yet? That may be debatable, but it cannot be easily argued that any other work is objectively, without question, better.
On “Noble Beast,” Bird displays many of the traits that have gotten him this far: the pizzicato violin lines layered over beds of strings, the whistling, and the imaginative and thesaurus-defying vocabulary, while pushing forward and creating sounds and textures that are new and unfamiliar to even the most rabid of Bird fans.
“Oh No” starts off the album as an instant classic, bringing his whistling to the front right off the bat. It is also the catchiest song of the album, making it an obvious selection for the first single. Bird examines the admirable privilege that children have of being able to freely and unabashedly express their emotions out in public, while the more mature of us are forced to stifle any emotions we have until we are alone and in private.
Other highlights include the more conventional rocker “Fitz and the Dizzyspells,” the electronic percussion and driving beat of “Not a Robot, But a Ghost,” and the brooding yet joyous “Masterswarm.”
But one song stands out from the rest as exceptional, and this is the 10th track, “Anonanimal.” Starting with his trademark pizzicato loops, moving into an odd-meter bridge and going back into a reverb-drenched finish, the song gives us Bird at his best, mixing clever lyrics with virtuosic playing.
Speaking of lyrics, Bird does not disappoint. He has said in many interviews that he often uses words more for the sound of them, rather than what they mean. Not that the songs are devoid of meaning, but the meaning is found later, after the rhythm and feel of the often multisyllabic words is processed.
Lines like “From proto-Sanskrit Minoans to porto-centric Lisboans” from “Tenuousness” or “I see a sea anenome/The enemy/see a sea anenome” from “Anonanimal” are lines that turn off some people that see Bird as trying too hard to be “literate” and interesting, but it is admirable to see someone take a different approach to writing lyrics. I’d much rather hear lines like those than, say, “Baby, who turned the temperature hotter? / ‘Cause I’m burnin’ up, burnin’ up for you baby” from a certain brother-led band.
All in all, it is going to take something outstanding to knock this off as an early favorite for 2009’s Album of the Year, especially when paired with “Useless Creatures,” an instrumental album that he released on the same day as “Noble Beast.