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Music Picks

Andrew Bird's 'Noble Beast'

Music to soothe the savage pop landscape.

By Thom Wong 15 Jan 2009 | TheTyee.ca

Thom Wong writes regularly about music for The Tyee. He can also be found ruminating about the state of menswear at The Sunday Best.

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Andrew Bird, prepared for possible pigeon attack.

The world can be divided into two types of people: those who think Andrew Bird is the next musical Jesus, and those who think he signals everything that's wrong with "hipster culture." (Note: this is by far the cheapest tactic with which to open a column. You can divide the world an infinite number of ways with any subjective qualification. Chuck Klosterman has made a living out of it.)

Whatever side of the spectrum you fall on is unlikely to change with Bird's latest offering, the challenging yet oddly melodically pop Noble Beast.

For example, in a world where music is either event-based ("this is what I run to," "this is what I shop to," "this is what I sit and do nothing to"), or mood based ("I play this and it cheers me right up"), Andrew Bird will introduce a nine-minute instrumental called "Carrion Suite." I've listened to it in its entirety about 10 times and the only thing I can see anyone doing to it is staging a Noh play. As for evoking a mood... is "architectural" a mood? (In case the foregoing didn't make it clear, I think it's brilliant.)

"Carrion Suite" is on the deluxe edition of Noble Beast as part of an instrumental collection called Useless Creatures. Bird makes it easy for you to decide whether it's worth the extra money -- he's streaming the whole extra disc on his site. As for the songs with words, "Oh No" shows he still has a fascination with whistling, math and ancient peoples, otherwise known as the sweet geek trifecta. Don't be surprised if the next iPod commercial features our avian songsmith.

"Fitz and the Dizzy Spells," apart from being a future classic band name, churns along with some good-natured guitar that still manages to evoke Bird's signature violin (which often sounds like a guitar). But Bird is primarily a live performer, and to really appreciate what's happening in his songs you need to see him negotiating his looping pedal on stage. His songs are built layer by layer, often starting with Bird plucking his violin or whistling an amazingly complex melody. YouTube has a wealth of live shows, but my current favourite is this clip from Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich's From the Basement.

Andrew Bird's Noble Beast will be released on Jan. 20, 2009. He is currently on tour in the United States; his only Canadian dates are in Toronto and Montreal.

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