“Plasticities” was the anthem of a spring break ski trip in the Green Mountains. Blasting Andrew Bird while detouring through bumsfuckville in an Audi with my two best friends felt straight out of a rural-centered “Juno,” more about cow-tipping than teenage pregnancy. Yes, titling an album “Armchair Apocrypha” incites large-scale vomiting in the mouth, but the music from Bird’s 2007 LP sticks to you. The drums groove as pizzicato violin shoots over deep Bossa bass lines and under Bird’s thin yet soothing voice, perhaps a Ricky Martin for the alt-folk world.
Unfortunately, Bird’s latest effort, “Noble Beast,” barely grasps the listener at all. The re-creation of his live sound through the use of increasingly layered textures and shifting beats gets tired fast, as does the listener while taking in Bird’s mumbled and incoherent croon. Clumsy gypsy guitars come in a little too heavy in the mix while the vocals merely float, leaving nothing to hold onto, often overshadowed by disconnected drumming and piercing whistling. It’s as if Bird wrote the entire album for the purpose of its being featured in every landscape tracking shot of Wes Anderson’s next three films.
Bird seems to bank on the fact that an audience will recognize the aesthetic value of sonically appealing lyrics over relatable ones. “Ten-u-ous-ness, less seven comes to three/ Them, you, us plus 11/ Thank the heavens for their elasticity/ And as for those who live and die for astronomy.” That shit doesn’t even SOUND cool. The issue with Bird’s lyricism does not merely lie in his love of “witty” word play, but in his blatant selfishness. Even when his rhymes come through the cycling instrumentals, they register as nothing more than verbal masturbation, an attempt at modern lyric poetry. Emphasizing polysyllabic words in the midst of monosyllabic phrases, Bird must feel like Wallace Stevens in skinny jeans, perhaps subliminally supporting 7-11 by throwing the eponymous digits into his cum rag of comatose-inducing songs.
On a positive note, the song “Anonanimal” grooves in the interplay of all varieties of sweeping picking. The description of dangerous beauty, “I see a sea anemone/ The enemy/ See a sea anemone/ And that’ll be the end of me,” curling under looping violin hooks, pulls the listener right into Bird’s fear and insecurities. Unfortunately, songs like “Masterswarm” that encourage the grouping of Bird with Thom Yorke highlight unmotivated meter shifts that seem more indicative of boredom with modal structures than desire to progress the song.
It’s hard to nod your head to a beat while the vocalist croons, “They took me to the hospital/ They put my body through a scan/ What they saw there would impress them all/ For inside me grows a man.”