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Review of Andrew Bird's Noble Beast

First Listen: Andrew Bird's Noble Beast

I believe a new Andrew Bird album is always something to celebrate — I even made his upcoming Noble Beast one of my entertainment must haves for the month. So when I heard that NPR was offering a free early listen to the new album, I could scarcely click in fast enough.

Noble Beast is an interesting album for Bird; his record label thinks it's the one that could make him a breakout star. I don't disagree with that; there are a few songs on here that I could even hear on the radio. But if you're a longtime Bird fan that shouldn't make you wary; the catchier songs here are among his best. My one reservation at first listen is that the album doesn't really build from his 2007 release, Armchair Apocrypha, which had a lot of tracks that just seemed to soar. Noble Beast is more restrained, maybe, but I can still see it becoming a staple in my collection, especially with some time to let the lyrics sink in. To see my first impressions of each track, just

.

  • "Oh No" — A track we've heard in progress and a great way to start the album, with Bird's signature whistling and looping and a toe-tapping, catchy rhythm. I love the layering of sounds, from the vocal tones to the hand claps that kick in partway through.
  • "Masterswarm" — Starts out in a minor key, slow and brooding, but after about 90 seconds, this track picks up a syncopated, almost Brazilian beat and lyrics delivered in a style reminiscent of spoken word. At more than six minutes, it's maybe a touch too long, but really picks up again toward the end.
  • "Fitz and the Dizzyspells" — This track sounds like it could be a pop hit, very bright and cheery right from the start. But it's very much an Andrew Bird pop song, with string-plucking, a whistling bridge, and an exhortation to "soldier on."
  • "Effigy" — Concerned the album might be too pop after "Fitz"? Not so much with this track, which starts out with almost a full minute of layered strings. Bird's voice takes center stage on this one and sounds richer and more immediate than typical. Love the backing vocals and the waltz-like rhythm.
  • "Tenuousness" — A very cool rhythm drives this track, constantly changing just enough to keep it engrossing. Very wordy, too — someday I'll go decipher all of the lyrics. One of my early favorites.
  • "Nomenclature" — Not such a big fan of this one on first listen. By Bird's standards, it's almost spartan until about the halfway point, when it suddenly gets very noisy. A little too repetitive for my tastes.
  • "Ouo" — This 20-second "track" seems like a transition between two parts of the album, no more and no less.
  • "Not a Robot But a Ghost" —  Rhythmic, catchy, and yet somehow still not terribly memorable on first listen — but I imagine this one will creep back into my head later on, especially once I've had a chance to process the breakup-song lyrics.
  • "Unfolding Fans" — Another brief interlude, just a minute of violin.
  • "Anonanimal" — Wow, so much classic Bird wordplay in this one; my tongue feels twisty just thinking about it. Nice, big build in the middle. I'll definitely be listening to this track again.
  • "Natural Disaster" — Really slows it down here. This song's maybe as close to a straight-up ballad as I've heard from Bird. Very pretty; not too thrilling.
  • "Privateers" — This is another slow track, but with more of a backing beat; I found myself tapping my toes about halfway through it. It's not as soaring as some of the songs earlier on the album, but it's another one I'll revisit for sure.
  • "Souverian" — More than seven minutes long, "Souverian" seems like a couple of different but related songs. I found myself a little bored by the first half, but the second half is steady and haunting.
  • "On Ho" — Very, very pretty violin, but not the engaging song I'd hoped for to close the album. (No matter; I'll just listen to "Oh No" or "Tenuousness" again instead.)
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