June 2007

Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
Fat Possum Records FP 1058-2
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by Shannon Holliday

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Few pop musicians tackle life’s metaphysical mysteries, but then Andrew Bird isn’t exactly a pop musician. More aligned with the likes of post-modernists Beck and Sufjan Stevens, he examines the great unknown without pretense or malcontentment. The ultimate effect is somewhere between a history lesson, vocabulary test, meditative musing, and study in world affairs. Most pleasingly, his excellent musicianship is delivered with an unconventional approach.

Throughout Armchair Apocrypha, Bird whistles, sings, and plays violin, glockenspiel, and an old Jaguar guitar. While his tools are altogether antiquated, his talent is undeniably innovative. His technique in the past was to loop his own one-man band, playing alone in a swirl of self-created sound. Here, Bird shares the studio by including drummer and keyboardist Martin Dosh, back-up vocalist Haley Bonar, and multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Ylvisaker, among others, a move that ironically serves to embolden Bird’s own playing.

At times dreamy and romantic, other times turning up electric, this is the standout best of Bird’s seven studio albums, coinciding nicely with greater recognition from mainstream media such as Rolling Stone and a recent appearance on David Letterman's show. To hear the glockenspiel at its finest alongside an unyielding backbeat, check out "Imitosis". For verification of Bird’s verbal inventiveness any track will do, except the closing instrumental, "Yawny at the Apocalypse," a song highlighting his skillful violin playing, which speaks for itself.