The Words of the Bird
Andrew Bird earnt his reputation as one-man-band. The dexterous, nimble-fingered violinist turned multi-instrumentalist turned sensitive songsmith spent years on the road, perfecting a liveshow in which he single-handedly built grand-scale songs from a fiddle, a loop-pedal, a honeyed tenor, and one almighty whistle. That's still the prevailing image of Bird, and shall, one would guess, forever be. What few ever hail is Bird the lyricist.
Bird’s fourth album as solo artist —following four as band-leader with Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire— finds the 35-year-old Chicagoan in charge of playful, poetic vocals and tongue-twisting, imagery-loaded lyrics. From cute alliterations (“flailing fetal fleas”) and tongue-twisters (“I see a sea anemone”), to couplets whose similar syllables carry intellectualist vigour (“from proto-Sanskrit Minoans/to Porto-centric Lisboans”), Bird shows the same impish, intuitive, experimental approach to words as he does to instruments.
In Natural Disaster, he lets loose with this verse: “no peace in the valleys/malarial alleys/where the kittens have pleurisy/donning my goggles/valerian ogles/to see microscopically”. Bird dons the goggles to look at man and his relationship to the natural world; coming off as part anthropologist, part biologist as he sings things like “calcified arithmetists” and “Anthurium Lacrimae.”
Musically, Bird is still an ad-hoc composer, building fluid, evolving, swimming arrangements that eschew the simple trappings of pop-song structure. Favoring recurring movements and motifs, Bird's tracks subtly swell from raindrops of pizzicato to gales of distorted violin, absorbing swarms of polyrhythmic, polytonal details as they grow in force like gathering storms. Though there's acoustic guitar and percussion as a constant, and an ever-growing array of instruments throughout, the barometer for Bird's emotional craft is still his violin.
Playing off the fiddle's intrinsic role in countless musics, Bird effortlessly melds many styles into something singular. Classically trained in modern composition, and having played jazz, swing, and bluegrass, Bird feels comfortable cribbing from dixie or hip-hop or modern minimalist composition. His sweet singing and fondness for acoustic instruments has Bird known as some sort of 'folk' act, but he seems less indebted to a musical past than of this musical moment; his unique take on Americana sounding country-ish whilst embodying the reality of the polyglot melting-pot.
Noble Beast marks, in many ways, Bird's best record yet. If he'd seemed a fringe figure before, his reputation has definitely gone beyond that. Bird is an individualist, a dashing figure beholden to no particular genre; his orchestral, ambitious, self-styled compositions razing the regular genrefied ghettoes of post– this or –folk that. That he truly knows how to turn a phrase is but an added blessing.
Record Label: Fat Possum
Release Date: 20 January 2009