9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 26 January 2009
Andrew Bird has a wonderful four albums to his name - the multi-instrumentalist (including classically-trained violinist) reached his zenith with The Mysterious Production Of Eggs, a gorgeous, clever, sophisticated delight of an album. Were you to imagine a muso Jeff Buckley, you'd not be far wrong, with Bird's wonderfully warm, soaring voice accompanying his pizzicato violin, and (often simultaneously) multi-tracked instruments. Noble Beast is a bit of a departure, and not an entirely welcome one. Whereas he's been pretty self-reliant in past, this album sees him rope in some members of Wilco to indie up the sound. The result, with Mark Nevers (producer of Lambchop and Calexico) at the desks, is a little one-dimensional - nice enough, but lacking the kind of flights of fancy that entertained so much, and that can easily be misclassified as experimental. It is an album that has a stronger crust to break through, and once in it is a little flat. Bird seems to have taken himself pretty seriously here - the whimsy of his music lost. Instead, Noble Beast sounds like later-era Paul Simon, but played and sung beautifully. (This review also refers only to CD1...)
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I've never heard Andrew Bird before so when Noble Beast came through I didn't know what to expect. But what i got was a real find. What I got was acoustic guitar, a great voice, strings and oh...some whistling.
It starts off with Oh No and its great chorus of 'Arm in arm we are the harmless sociopaths', Lyrically its pretty good as well. On Masterswarm his voice reminds me of Thom Yorke for some reason at the beginning.
Fitz and Dizzy Spells is a great feel good number that bounces along and is one of my personal favourites. The album veers between feelgood and the heavier numbers. Both work well. It reminds me of of It's Heavy in Here - by Eric Matthews It's Heavy in Herefor some reason. I think its the way it uses strings and tracks start and never end in the same way. The best example of this is my personal favourite Anonanimal. Again there are echos of Radiohead here towards the end when the drums kick in and we could be listening to something from Hail to the Thief.
The more I listen the more I pick out. And having seen the live version of Andrew Bird I must say I can't wait for a new offering.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Mr Bird is that rarest of creatures. Namely one who still
understands and values the gentle art of whistling.
Bird by name and bird by nature. This most eminently portable
of musical instruments has all but disappeared from the world.
My own Father could whistle well and passed on the gift to me.
That this simple and highly effective tool is kept alive and
utilised substantially on 'Noble Beast' deserves our applause !
Hand-clapping, too, gets more than a little piece of the action.
These spartan skills, combined with the artist's multi-instrumental
capabilites, have amalgamated in a collection of 12 fine songs
(and two brief sonic interludes) of which he can be very proud.
I understand that this is Mr Bird's fifth studio album.
I have to admit that this is my first encounter with his work
and that his devotees will already be far ahead of me in their
understanding and appreciation of his labours.
What I have heard here, however, is clear evidence of a major talent.
This is classy songwriting which doesn't need to declare itself
from the rooftops or dress up in gaudy fashionable vestments.
The melodies are inventive and strong; the arrangements occasionally
complex but always lucid.
Mr Bird's highish tenor voice communicates the warmth,
invention and good humour of his lyrics with alacrity.
So many treats here it's hard to know quite where to start.
'Nomenclature', despite its relative brevity, is an absolute
jewel of a song. Violin, percussion and exqusite harmonies
coalesce in a truly memorable performance.
'Not A Robot but A Ghost', with its quirky scuffling rhythm,
is about as loud and busy as things get on the album.
The song's dreamlike ambience is magically sustained.
'Fitz and The Dizzy Spells' chuggs along happily spilling
out some of the finest whistling, clapping and radiant
harmonies to be heard on the album. A cracking little song.
'Natural Disaster' delivers a truly affecting vocal performance
from Mr Bird. This track, together with penultimate number
'Souverian' are two of the finest songs I have heard this year.
'Anonanimal', however, is the crowning glory in this collection.
An enthralling and haunting composition encompassing all of
this fine troubadour's significant talents and skill. Stunning !
An album I am very happy to have stumbled across.
A timely and fortuitous accident.
on 6 February 2012
I recently discovered Andrew Bird and as a fan of such leftfield "indie" as Radiohead, Sufjan Stevens, Belle & Sebastian and Tindersticks this was right up my street. Noble Beast is leftfield in its unusual song structures (note the crescendo then sudden fade in Souverian) and in particular in Bird's brilliant violin playing which is present throughout. The clever wordplay stands out, my favourite example being at the start of Tenuousness: "From proto-Sanskrit Minoans to Porto-centric Lisboans, Greek Cypriots and harbor sorts who hang around in ports a lot". There is also Bird's whistling which seems to divide opinion, but for me works in the context of the songs.
If I had to choose highlights, I might go for the catchy Fitz And The Dizzy Spells, the experimental Radiohead like sound of Not A Robot, But A Ghost or the simply beautiful The Privateers. However, that would be to ignore all the other brilliant tracks herein, which make choosing highlights seem somewhat churlish. Indeed I would be hard pressed to name another album completely devoid of weaker tracks. Put simply, this is one of the best albums I have heard. Ever.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 17 January 2009
This latest release comes in two parts, and I haven't heard the 2nd (instumental) CD so these comments refer only to CD1.
Anyone who has heard the European tour release 'Soldier On' will have noted that Andrew Bird was taking a direction towards a sound that was, in general, less of the experimental and more of the melodic style, and that direction is continued with Noble Beast. 'In general' is key.. Firstly this is very unmistakebly Andrew Bird, clever and educated lyrics, the prominant use of violin and whistling, although there is more acoutic guitar used than previosly, and of course the voice that falls somewhere between Rufus Wainwright and Jeff Buckley. Secondly it of course has a few tracks, in the middle of the album, that challenge a bit more while still being listenable; the short tracks Ouo and Unfolding Fans precede the second longest track Not A Robot, But A Ghost. And after that it winds down through the mellow again until the short violin (viola?) coda of On Ho.
And inbetween is my personal favourite, Privateers, which, as John Peel may have said, is a thing of great beauty. To give an indication of the overall quality of writing, that track has more than hint of the writing of Leonard Cohen about it, and elsewhere there are also musical leanings towards such diverse performers as Paul Simon, Donovan and others that I frustratingly can't place.
All in all this is a very approachable and listenable, and dare I even say commercial album than some of AB's previous releases, and I guess directed more to his USA audience, where he can sell out arenas and moderate sized stadia - at the date of this review the album is No. 91 on Amazon USA, and No. 568 on Amazon UK. It has a more acoustic and mellow feel to it than Armchair Apocrypha, and as such is a new musical journey.
So why only 4 stars? Well, it does fall short of being absolutely outstanding, but not far short, and there's no facility for 4.5 stars, which it what I'd like to give it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 8 February 2009
Andrew Bird has produced another great album. More 'mainstream' i guess but is still on a par with th Mysterious Production Of Eggs and Armchair Apocrypha. Second disc is a nice little bonus too and ALSO you get a little poster in the CD sleave!
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Having recently caught many people's attention on the live music TV show, From The Basement, Andrew Bird's captivating performance whetted the appetite for his fifth solo studio album, Noble Beast. The intimate nature of the performance showcased Bird's greatest assets: a closed-eyes intensity, complex multi-instrument sonic landscaping and intoxicating lyricism. Bird's signature one-man-band innovation (he executes his songs solo with the help of loop pedals) coupled with his eerie whistling forays made for an engaging experience. The slight concern with Noble Beast is whether or not it can be as affecting as the live performance and whether or not its fourteen tracks are too ambitious or too dense to enjoy.
If there is one criticism that could be levelled against the classically-trained Andrew Bird, it is that his melodies often meander aimlessly rather than going in the direction you expected them to. Obvious chorus opportunities seem to come into conflict with Bird's intellect and creative craftsmanship. However, this is really a minor irritation and if Andrew Bird was in any way compliant, he would not be nearly as intriguing. Happily, Noble Beast sees Bird eschew his obvious proclivity towards the musically abstruse in favour of more melodious ventures. The format is still the same though: scholarly lyricism and eccentric storytelling of loneliness and yearning dovetailed by Bird's intrinsically sorrowful, but always warming, compositions.
Right from the off it is clear that Bird is not for pigeon holing. Whereas opening track Oh No juxtaposes a string-laden jazz introduction with upbeat claps and whistles verse and chorus borrowed from Belle and Sebastian, Masterswarm places you straight on the Mexican-American border with Ennio Morricone atmospherics and Calexico-like mood swings. The constant hopping from genre to genre does take time to get used to but this in itself is quite a pleasurable bind.
Tenuosness is a clear stand out - its weave of intricate poetry ("Tenuous at best was all he had to say / When pressed about the rest of it the world that is / From proto-Sanskrit Minoans to Porto-centric Lisboans / Greek Cypriots and and harbour-sorts who hang around in ports a lot") complimented by a haunting string composition. Nomenclature also impresses; its subtle tale about a life of isolation soon transforms itself into a jolting, angry protest.
The album's highlight is its final quartet of tracks proper (the real final track being an instrumental closer). Anonanimal's surprising Radiohead-style chorus - the first time Noble Beast grabs you by the shirt collar - is perhaps an indication that Bird is willing to attract a wider audience that requires the comforting appearance of an electric guitar, although Bird doesn't exactly stomp on the reverb pedal for very long. The Privateers sense of young optimism again recalls Tigermilk-era Belle and Sebasitan, providing a more immediate appeal to the casual listener. Natural Disaster is one of Noble Beast's most delicate moments. Bird's folk roots are clearly apparent throughout but it is this track's subtle sing-along pretensions that are most endearing. If Bird never quite goes into Hey Jude territory, this song may be as near as he ever ventures. The beautiful crescendo chorus of Souverian soars, pauses for breath and builds once more. It is a heartbreaking way to end this record and while drowned in misery it may be, Bird has his own way of making the whole thing sound almost appealing.
With Noble Beast, Andrew Bird has - in his own inimitable, esoteric fashion - created something equally beautiful, mesmeric and enlightening. Welcome are the tambourine taps, occasional hand clapping sessions and female backing vocals, all of which help to lubricate Bird's raw, obscure subject matter and unusual, if not unpalatable, arrangements. Bird's sound is now more focused and for the first time he has produced an album characterised not by its frustrating, if likeable eccentricity, but by its roundedness and accessibility.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 16 March 2009
Like all good folk-influenced music, Bird has crafted an album which places great importance on the lyrics. What is more unusual is that his tales veer towards the nonsensical, yet still compete for recognition with the rich musical backdrop.
This is experimental folk-pop, if such a thing exists. It's possible that this genre could be the noble beast of which Bird speaks, as there is a certain dignity in his assonantic poetry and the way it mixes with his warm acoustics. However, there is equally a strong sense of beauty to compliment this figurative, noble beast. The violins embrace the often-plucked rhythms, the handclap-resembling percussion partners the touch of Morricone effortlessly, which drifts across `Masterswarm'.
`Fitz & Dizzyspells' hints at The Shins and `Nonmenclature' confirms it. `Not A Robot, But A Ghost' even recalls a lo-fi Radiohead, circa Amnesiac. These are complex tracks with distorted pop at their charming heart. They envelop the listener with comfortable warmth, but may be too comfortable, allowing the experience to bypass the indifferent listener unaffected. There could be a case for having trimmed a couple of weaker numbers to allow that which remained to be the more memorable, but nevertheless Bird's lush beast is still a beauty.
on 28 January 2015
Love it! Thank you Andrew!
8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 27 August 2009
Comparisons are odious, as someone famous once said, but sometimes they are revealing. After listening to Noble Beast twice, I stuck the ipod on shuffle. First Nirvana's Lithium came up, then Carmichael by Neil Young, then Powder Keg by the Fall, and listening to the three of them made me realize just what an enervating experience it had been listening to Andrew Bird's latest.
I bought it on the strength of reviews that made it sound interesting. For me, the reviews proved more interesting than the music itself. The tunes are quite pretty and the violin playing is very good, but the songs in their entirety all fall short. They're sort of sweet in a Rilo Kiley/James Blunt sort of way. A bit limp. A bit vacuous. In short, unlike the three artists listed above, there is no passion. While Kurt Cobain is pleading with someone to 'throw down your umbilical noose so I can climb right back', Andrew bird is asking his listeners to 'soldier on'. And that's just how it felt listening to the entire album.
And as for the whistling! I always have a problem when a song breaks into la-la-la-ing. It suggests the writer couldn't be bothered with the lyrics. Whistling is far worse. That was what stopped this being a 3-star review. Maybe it's intended as a joke - someone called Bird who whistles. Maybe not. Whatever, it's truly horrible.