Noble Beast is Andrew Bird’s eighth album, and though he’s previewed many of its songs live, the studio versions sound more like the morning after the gig than the gig itself. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, just another change of pace for an artist who doesn’t know the meaning of repetition.
Unlike the sometimes raucous Mysterious Production of Eggs (2005) or the highly dramatic Armchair Apocrypha (2007), Noble Beast is a far more hushed affair, fitting for its cover art (the sun rising over a lovely field). Opening track “Oh No” has the vibe of Rufus Wainwright interpreting an old Paul Simon song—with the addition of some pitch-perfect whistling, of course. The styles shift from that point on, but the mood holds. Like Armchair, Noble Beast doesn’t wow one out of the gate, but its subtleties are so numerous and intriguing that future listens pretty much guarantee surprises. Bird, for all his charm as a detached vocalist and oddball lyricist, is still a violinist above all else, and he’s a master of putting that instrument in varying but always cozy environs. Sometimes it’s a wee bit Brazilian (“Masterswarm”), or a touch French (“Not a Ghost, but a Robot”), or kind of Old West (“The Privateers”), but the songs tend to feel more familiar than they sound. This could be Bird’s best record, and that sunrise on the cover might actually be a sunset. Not even time will tell.