As the pastoral album cover hints, Noble Beast is a different kind of Andrew Bird. It’s grounded in a kind of naturalistic realism, a smaller album overall. While not a bad thing, but as it’s a comedown from the dark grandeur of Armchair Apocrapha, there’s definitely a period of listener adjustment that has to happen. Most every moment of Noble Beast is fraught with restraint, lacking the soaring bombast that permeated both its predecessor and …And The Mysterious Production of Eggs. Many of the tracks on Noble Beast are gentle to the core, crafted with touches of straight piano, acoustic guitar and cautious percussion.
It’s definitely a throwback to an older Bird, as there’s many moments where Noble Beast recall the simpler songwriting style of 2003’s Weather Systems which felt like an album of songs to be performed alone. Noble Beast has the essence of being written for someone, a touching living room performance in a house with creaky floorboards and a snow dusted roof.
‘Souverian’ is a good example of the new dynamic. At over seven minutes, it’s the lengthiest track on the album, and it retains touches of the more complex Bird songwriting. It begins a delicate stitch of violin, acoustic guitar and brushed drums that hang against the. The song snakes along, taking it’s time, pausing often to catch its breath; there are moments where you can feel the hints of a build coming, but it’s only a tease. An older Bird would use those moments as springboard into a looped cloud, but instead you get just a taste…a single bowed note arcs higher, reaching out of the mix, then things are quickly grounded. The song shifts in the last few minutes, the drums grow heavy and the melody somber, before taking off slowly into a glacial cloud of guitar noise. The entire song, as well most of the rest of the album is a work of patience…still quintessential Bird, but different in its approach.
‘Anonanimal’ is an incredibly subdued and interesting track that quickly grew to be my favorite on the album. It snakes around the first half with a deft tangle of prickly guitar, violin and gorgeous wordplay. After a moments pause, it leads the listener along to a pop of Dosh’s skittering drumming and a bolder guitar riff.
Overall, we’re faced with a slow moving, intricate work that takes time to crack open and examine the majesty within. Initially, I wasn’t totally sold on the album as a whole and was prepared to just write it off as a low point in his catalog, but I needed to sit with it for longer in order for it to grow on me. I’m a very staunch Bird fan, but on the same page, I love the complexity and the dexterous layering that made a beautiful fog out of his last two albums. The absence of those elements was off putting at first, but with repeated exposure, became a benefit. The strongest element of Noble Beast stands with Bird’s vocal melodies. While the older albums sucked listeners in with the craft of the music, I think that this album marks a change in his confidence as a songwriter. He’s less afraid to hide behind technical elements and lets the small touches speak just as loud. If you’re not in love with this album instantly, do take the time to get familiar with the melodies, to peek into the corners and find the subtle details that makes this album worthy of many repeat listens.
Feb 14 2009/ The Rialto Theatre – Tucson, Arizona
Feb 15 2009/ SOMA – San Diego, California
Feb 18 2009/ The Orpheum Theatre – Los Angeles, California
Feb 19 2009/ The Fillmore – San Francisco, California
Feb 20 2009/ The Fillmore – San Francisco, California
Feb 21 2009/ Roseland Theater – Portland, Oregon
Feb 23 2009/ The Moore Theatre – Seattle, Washington
Feb 24 2009/ Knitting Factory – Boise, Idaho
Feb 25 2009/ The Murray Theater – Murray, Utah
Feb 26 2009/ The Ogden Theater – Denver, Colorado
Feb 27 2009/ Slowdown – Omaha, Nebraska
Feb 28 2009/ Hoyt Sherman Place Des Moines, Iowa
Mar 15 2009/ The Pageant – St. Louis, Missouri
Mar 16 2009/ Liberty Hall Lawrence, Kansas
Mar 17 2009/ Cain’s Ballroom – Tulsa, Oklahoma
Mar 21 2009/ House of Blues – Houston, Texas
Mar 22 2009/ Granada Theater – Dallas, Texas
Mar 23 2009/ The Lyric Oxford – Oxford, Mississippi
Apr 2 2009/ Allen Theatre – Cleveland, Ohio
Apr 3 2009/ Queen Elizabeth Theatre – Toronto, Ontario
Apr 4 2009/ Le National – Montreal, Quebec
Apr 5 2009/ Higher Ground – South Burlington, Vermont
Apr 7 2009/ Carnegie Music Hall – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Apr 8 2009/ Michigan Theater – Ann Arbor, Michigan
Apr 9 2009/ Civic Opera House Chicago, Illinois
Apr 10 2009/ Civic Opera House – Chicago, Illinois
Apr 11 2009/ The State Theater – Minneapolis, Minnesota
Apr 27 2009/ La Cigale – Paris
Noble Beast was released January 20th in North America on Fat Possum Records and February 2nd in Europe via Bella Union/Cooperative.