Album review: Andrew Bird's 'Noble Beast'
In such lean times, it's a pleasure to have something as generous as Andrew Bird's "Noble Beast." The Chicago-based singer/songwriter/violinist has tiptoed at the edges of making a definitive record for many albums. On "Noble Beast," he pares back his self-consciously virtuosic playing and focuses on perfect sounds and turns of melody.
During his live sets, Bird builds rafters-shaking string arrangements with the aid of a looping pedal, but on "Beast" he treats his violin as one complementary instrument among many. "Not a Robot, but a Ghost" adds grimy drum loops and sun-damaged Tropicalia guitar to his repertoire, while "Nomenclature" swells to a climax of vocal harmonies and ambient distortion.
Even his more traditional fare feels refined to essential ideas, like on "Tenuousness," where Bird's operatic whistling sidles up to front-porch guitar picking. This isn't Bird's "pop" record per se; his affection for lyrics like "From proto-Sanskrit Minoans to porto-centric Lisboans" would have a hard run at radio. But "Beast" is his most instantly inviting album by far and vividly underscores his skills as a producer.
Fat Possum Records
*** (Three stars)