Armchair Apocrypha is Andrew Bird’s most accessible record to date, which makes me skeptical. What makes it so easy to like? Is it going to sound boring in two months? Time will tell, but the songs are solid, and the things that make Andrew Bird interesting are all still here. This is a lush, gorgeous record and the twisted nursery rhyme lyrics are still smiling morbidly beneath the pleasant exterior.
The songs are louder and a little faster this time around. Electric guitars and pianos are more prominent. But what sets Armchair Apocrypha apart from Weather Systems or The Mysterious Production of Eggs is the refinement in the mixing and arrangements. Previously, songs were built with careful, deliberate layers in which the instruments all seemed to take turns as the center of attention. Now, everything comes together faster and is mixed more gently.
Each instrument is present in a way that bolsters the ones around it rather than competing with them. Bird may still whistle for twenty seconds or play a lone violin note that soars above the rest of the song for a few measures, but those moments no longer seem ostentatious. Now they’re part of the scenery.
The pacing prevents even the languorous seven-minute “Armchairs” from overstaying its welcome. “Simple X” was co-written with multi-instrumentalist Martin Dosh, and with its keyboard groove and chattering drum machine, it sounds least like Bird’s previous work. It’s also the best example of how the cohesiveness of the album serve the songs.
Other highlights include two older songs (“I” from Weather Systems and “Sweetbreads” from the tour souvenir Fingerlings) which have been reworked and are now called “Imitosis” and “Dark Matter.” Both songs benefit from polished, muscular arrangements. “Imitosis” has thumping drums and a more extensive set of lyrics than “I.”
“Dark Matter” takes on a more serious tone than its counterpart, with Bird cutting its original chorus (“I could taste what you were thinking / It’s the taste of neurons blinking”). Some of the charm of the original version is lost in the stately new version, but listen carefully: the line about “tongues that taste you back” is still in there.
This new-found accessibility will almost certainly bring a wider audience to the music, which is what an artist deserves after years of making records for a small, devoted fan base. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go start worrying that Andrew Bird is about to top the Billboard charts and start touring stadiums with Johnny Marr.