Think of the noble beast in its natural environment, grazing, amazing in its very being. Without saying a word it communicates its nature through the swing of the tail, a snort, a primeval wisdom transferred through dark brown eyes. Or perhaps it’s a buzzing or stretch of the wing that displays the nobility of the creature. In either case language is rendered secondary; the beast’s majesty is in the very essence of simply being.
Andrew Bird is well imbued with the gift of language, so much so that one feels defenseless in the torrent of his cerebral imagery encompassing science, mythology, technology and fanciful meandering. For example, in the song “Tenuousness” he sings “Proto-Sanskrit Minoans to porto-centric Lisboans /Greek Cypriots and Hobishots /Who hang around the ports a lot." Okay, what ever you say, Andrew. However, I don’t feel that I have to understand everything he attempts to convey because the essence of Andrew Bird’s music isn’t so much what he says, but the atmosphere in which he says it. That is where the true majesty of Noble Beast is to be found as well as its contradictions.
Andrew Bird’s albums are a hatch door into an alternative universe in which sound is the key element, whether spoken or played. Bird is a classically trained violinist, a superb whistler an innovative indie-folk multi-instrumentalist and he uses all these talents to create a swirling atmosphere of melody and emotion. On his last album Armchair Apocrypha Bird immersed the listener in technology but here he steps away from that process, instead opting for a more acoustic approach. Beyond the traditional assemblage of folk/rock instrumentation Bird adds clarinet, flute, and organ. If it sounds like there are additional players that is due to Bird’s penchant for looping multiple violin lines. Bird’s melodies often take their time unwinding and often beginning with intricate intros. By the time the melody arrives you find yourself already immersed in Bird’s erudite lyrics.
Bird’s vocals are understated, to say the least. Listening to his philosophical weaves you find yourself surprised by how casually he delivers some of the most erudite lyrics you’re likely to come across this year. This approach lends a sense of whimsy to the proceedings. It’s hard to stay focused on just the music or just the lyric; they are so closely interwoven into this grand musical fabric. Here is where language becomes more important as sound even more so than idea.
Noble Beast is a sweeter album than Bird’s last release. He throws a touch of Latin rhythms into the track “Masterswarm” and exposes both an eastern and electronic influence on “Not a Robot, But a Ghost” a song co-written with longtime collaborator Martin Dosh. It is also an album that deserves to be heard as a complete entity. Only then will you divine the noble beast in the verbosity of the man.