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Album review: Andrew Bird's 'Noble Beast'

January 20, 2009 |  3:28 pm

Bird_2 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.

--August Brown

Andrew Bird
"Noble Beast"
Fat Possum Records
*** (Three stars)