Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha

Andrew Bird - Armchair ApocryphaAndrew BirdArmchair Apocrypha (Fat Possum)

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.

MP3: Andrew Bird – “Heretics”

One thought on “Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha”

  1. I never know what to do with those fancy paper cuff things they use to wrap up CDs. this one I might as well fold into an airplane and fly it into the furnace because I don’t think Armchair Apocrypha won’t have much down time on my shelf.

    after touching down like a hijacked comet, the album turns straight into Imitosis: a rocking reworking of what Sesame Street would no longer allow him to perform. yeah, through some IP legality thing, the 7 magic words were struck from his live set. but after a snip and stitch, the song is just folded back in on itself, and the result kicks ass. there’s now more of X-files than Ennio Morricone to the glocken-whistle. and the pizzicato technique even leans a little into Marc Ribot’s barrio, where the kids are still really nasty.

    then it’s the same sort of recycled kickass later on Dark Matter. a little of the former Sweetbreads survives the meat grinder, building a colossal crescendo from the beginning. but it’s more like some hog-butchering overalls and surgeon’s scrub greens hacked up and triple stitched together into a mythical firearm, somehow invisible but still bearing the bloodstains of its former matrix, and the vestigial questions about the self still remain too. except now he’s snarling, “like something catching fire!”

    yeah, I think this is where we all surrender our allegiance right? I mean if we haven’t already, especially with what Bird and Dosh are doing with the reciprocal looping, a couple of mirrors facing off and multiplying everything in between. anything crossing their field of reflection – Dosh’s junk kit, crumpled paper and cardboard, flocks of airborne plastic bags, burning oil wells and other furniture – all multiplied. I’ve got to say, the looping is way supernatural to me, like Bruce Lee and Han fighting in the hall of mirrors, so I’m pretty mystified.

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