Bella Union, 2009

Expectations are always high when Andrew Bird releases an album. This is largely due to Bird’s sheer consistency: he’s yet to release a dud album, and Noble Beast is no exception to the norm.

I was immediately interested to hear where Bird was going to go on this album: he’s been to so many places already. Noble Beast is an album full of insects, natural disasters and human nature, and is less conventional than its predecessor Armchair Apocrypha. In some respects, this album harks back to Bird’s excellent 2005 album Andrew Bird and The Mysterious Production of Eggs: Noble Beast sees Bird’s eerie whistling return to prominence, and is noticeably less electric than Armchair.

Noble Beast is a complicated album that lacks any real resemblance of a verse/chorus/verse structure. Bird’s fantastically detailed violin plucks and strums weave over his Theremin-like whistling, and his lyrics are a series of convoluted wordplays. Heck, at times Bird isn’t just playing with words, he’s playing with syllables: who else could come up with the line “From proto-Sanskrit Minoans to Porto-centric Lisboans, Greek Cypriots and harbour sorts who hang around ports a lot”?

Bird manages to strike a balance between using words predominantly for the way they sound, and managing to convey a piece of himself in them: on the track “Effigy“, Bird closes with the contemplative lyric “Like the words of a man who has spent too much time alone”. Despite the sometimes ridiculously elaborate lyrics (see “Nomenclature“) one would struggle to find a musician truer to themselves than Bird: Noble Beast draws you in and leaves you feeling an emotional connection to the songs.

Bird branches off into some new territory violin-wise on this album, and it is obvious that his talents in the area continue to grow. Noble Bird is not just about pizzicato (playing a violin more like a guitar, a trademark move of Bird’s) – he heads boldly into some country fiddling on “Effigy“, and the album concludes with a goose-bump inducing finale, which sounds like it has been lifted from the soundtrack to a particularly dramatic film. There are plenty of high notes, too – the swirling violin and flamenco-ish handclaps of “Master Swarm” are a highlight.

This album is absolutely a ‘grower’ – Noble Beast is complex and dense, and as a result, it takes time to reveal itself. Initially there’s so much going on it seems impossible to really appreciate the songs for anything other than an elaborate (yet thoroughly pretty) mess. There was always something, though, making me return to this album over and over: a part of me that knew this album simply needed a bit of effort, and a bit of work. It paid off, and I’m thankful to Andrew Bird for not giving himself up easily.

Kelly Ventress