Andrew Bird | Armchair Apocrypha (Fat Possum)

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armchairbirdWhile Bird's live performances serve as a landscape for rewriting his songs, as well as artistic experimentation, the 33-year-old Illinoisan has found stability in the studio, a place where his beauteous forms and melodies come to harbor.

 

Somewhere in the midst of a fortress built by bleeding guitars, haunted by the throws of pursed lips, and encased by his own purple prose, lies a musician unlike any other today. Here, it always seems to be the end of the world, yet comfortably he sits among the finches and papillons, Macedonian kings and heretics, contently contemplating neuroses, science, and fatality. A drawbridge of tuned metal-bars, strung by catgut, is all that separates Andrew Bird from the maelstroms of the rest of the caring music world, and as black fire rains, Dr. Stringz carries on plucking and bowing, turning phrases and pop-conventions on their heads.

From his early days training in the Suzuki method to the commercial introduction of the Squirrel Nut Zippers, and on to the Gypsy-folk jazz of his eponymous Bowl of Fire, Andrew Bird has experimented with his craft and identity as a musician. In 2005, he seemed to find stasis with the widely accessible, critically acclaimed pop masterpiece that is The Mysterious Production of Eggs. A velvety foray into multi-instrumentation, coupled with a gift for fancy wordplay, resulted in one of the more intriguing and gorgeous albums in recent memory, as all of Bird's influences were honed by smooth sensibilities to form a sound that is undoubtedly his own. On the heels of that success, and in the same vain, comes this year's Armchair Apocrypha, an album that could easily be recognized as a sister of the previous effort. While Bird's live performances serve as a landscape for rewriting his songs, as well as artistic experimentation, the 33-year-old Illinoisan has found stability in the studio, a place where his beauteous forms and melodies come to harbor.

Twelve songs deep (two of which are instrumentals), Armchair Apocrypha is prophetic in its titling, with Bird's defiance serving as an inspiring form of heresy in the face of modernity and self-deception. Lyrically, he is as inventive and clever as ever. On "Imitosis," a plucky, tugging re-imagination that devotees will recognize as "I," Bird describes a scientist who goes against his intuition to try and prove why children can be so cruel, resigning to the fact that "we are all basically alone." On the soaring "Dark Matter," the theme of human nature continues with the whistle-master using a childhood fascination with the game ‘Operation' to implore his listeners to define themselves. Bird sings, "The noose is loosed around our necks made of DNA/ And everyday it's growing tighter, no matter what you do or say/ But you can shoot right through with rays of dark matter/ Right before they kick out, they kick out the ladder." Of course, Armchair Apocrypha literally takes us to other worlds, as Bird is known to do. The pizzicato violin of "Scythian Empire" leads us to an odd place in history, as an "exiting empire" is honored as "breathtaking," while the remembrance of modern times is relegated to superfluous "Halliburton attaché cases."

Musically, Armchair Apocrypha is centered on the epic, "Armchairs," in which ringing piano and soft electric guitar accompany Bird's call for humility, building towards an explanatory apex in which smoothly oscillating vocals cry out, "Time is a crooked bow!" For fans of Bird's softer moments, "Cataracts" (which, among others, features backup vocals from Haley Bonar) employs subtle strings to pull at those of your aching heart, as well as displaying one of his more simply effective whistle-solos. For those who want something new (sort of), there is "Simple X," an adaptation of collaborator Martin Dosh's (who features throughout the album, along with bassist Chris Morrissey) "Simple Exercises," which centers around Dosh's drums and keys, while Bird's tricky poetics follow an easy, yet infectious melody. For those unfamiliar with Bird, there are no unpleasant songs in the entirety of Armchair Apocrypha, only fascinating displays of pop-mastery, shifting favorites, fine musicianship, and a beautiful voice running circles around his contemporaries with some of the most thoughtful and elusive lyrics that exist today. Whatever you like, one of these factors is guaranteed to keep you listening, and wanting more. A | Dave Jasmon

RIYL: Sufjan Stevens, Okkervil River, Midlake

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