Charles Darwin recently turned 200 years old, and I could think of no album more fitting to discuss than Andrew Bird’s latest on Fat Possum Records, entitled Noble Beast. The classically trained violin virtuoso’s cialis canadian pharmacy latest gives Darwin’s famous theory the high concept treatment, and, per usual of Bird’s previous efforts, the album proves a demonstrative exercise in pop music as art. While the artist’s work hardly provokes those primal sensations so indicative of pop music—fervor, lust—his sophisticated, almost erudite language, literally and musically, never fails to stimulate the mind. In this way, Noble Beast is not a concept album where the subject develops in a linear scheme. Bird instead utilizes evolution as an abstract interlocking token throughout: sometimes literally, but always musically.
Bird uses evolution to inform a through-composed form for virtually every track on the record. Instead of utilizing the standard verse-chorus, verse-chorus technique, Noble Beast’s songs grow organically from a musical germ (often following intuitively from the end of the previous track) and develop into unexpected, often surprising territories; “Masterswarm,” a six-minute mini-opus that follows a minor key acid folk introduction with a groovy bossa nova and explores key signatures until tonally settling at the end quite a distance from where it began, is a prime example of Bird’s sui generis creative nature.
While using this free form technique for each song, Bird maintains a palindromic form for the album, reintroducing lyrical and musical devices to end the album as it began (tracks 1, 2, and 3 correlating with 14, 13, and 12, respectively).
In spite of his surgical precision with form, Bird still maintains a catchy pop sensibility. Opening track “Oh No” and the breezy “Fitz and the Dizzyspells” both boast singable, memorable melodies onto which listeners can hold tight. In fact, a few of Bird’s whistling inventions (one of his music’s defining characteristics) can find folks humming to themselves in blissful reverie. The artist even employs the services of a tasty electro-inspired dance beat in “Not a Robot, But a Ghost,” a song that suggests how social progress begins with the artists: “I crack the codes, you end the war.” “Anonanimal” achieves the intimidating task of making 7/8 time feel natural; perhaps this meter is chosen to highlight Bird’s clever juxtaposition of anomalous and animal to describe a man in love.
Noble Beast’s greatest assets lie with Bird’s subtlety. Unfortunately, such subtlety can leave the listener longing for something more palpable; listeners want to sink their teeth into something. A precious few moments on the entire album rise above the understatement and leave a lasting first impression. Andrew Bird can give the impression that he’s averse to the idea of a single. In fact, many critics describe Bird’s music, at worst, as cold or impassive.
A better explanation is his music simply refuses to bludgeon the listener with the cocksure titillation of standard pop fare. The abstractions are intentional. Andrew Bird, as always, gracefully nods to the sophisticated high concept, and that’s why his records are better than those of Sufjan Stevens and Bright Eyes—the former lacks Bird’s maturity while the latter lacks Bird’s objectivity. Toeing the line of adulation, one could compare Bird’s music to the writing of Camus: the rewards are deep only if the listener/reader exerts oneself. Ultimately, Bird’s new album succeeds in granting the listener that rare gift manifested only in fine art: change—the listener, the noble beast, is transfigured.
Tripper Ryder is a composer and session bass player in Nashville,TN. When not studying counterpoint, he enjoys the music of Madonna and Meshuggah.