Just the other day after his appearance on Letterman, I was pondering whether I should buy Andrew Bird‘s (myspace) latest disc, Armchair Apocrypha. Today I zipped down to the new Rasputin down the street in Mountain View and picked it up (along with 3 other CDs—having a decent record store within an easy distance is going to be the end of me).
I’ve listened to it a few times today. Before today, I’d listened with half an ear to it as a friend was playing it and I’d heard the song “Heretics” on some of the music blogs.
The first couple songs zip past and my ears perk up at “Plasticities.” I enjoyed it when he played it on Letterman and I enjoy it on the record. It’s a standout song. “Heretics” fits in better within the context of the record than all by itself, on the music blogs.
Andrew Bird – Plasticities (mp3)
Bird is classically trained, with a degree in violin performance from Northwestern. There’s an idea in indie rock, a idyllic notion, undoubtedly coming from punk, that there is nothing more supreme than the authenticity, that the music is created by amateurs whose drive to create this music overtakes the musicianship and any other obstacles in the way. Sufjan Stevens has done graduate-level study in writing and it clearly shows in his songwriting and story telling, but everything he does is blessed by a feeling of authenticity somehow, even when his track titles are reaching one hundred words long. At this point in the record, I realize that Bird is not so lucky. There’s some confidence, preciousness, pretentiousness that goes along with being classically trained. This is the preppy kid that’s been studying violin since he was four years old.
Andrew Bird, you’re looping your pizzicato violin with more violin and whistling, guitar on top of that. You’re singing with your erudite lyrics about whatever you’re singing about (not to mention mentioning apocrypha in your album title). And you’re expecting me to buy this overly confident art pop?
All these thoughts disappear, though. “Simple X” is on and it’s wonderful. I’m suddenly not as concerned about the pretentiousness, the confidence.
“Scythian Empires” is the other immediate highlight of the album, with it’s looping finger-picked guitar part and rhythmic violin pizzicato. I feel like I could listen to this for a year. Andrew Bird! Why have you only made this song four and a half minutes long? You could carry this on for five or six more minutes easy.
The rest of the disc ends nicely. “Yawny at the Apocalypse” is a lovely instrumental (though I really want the name to be “Yawning at…” because I really don’t want people to think I’m talking about something else when I say it over the air), slow moving and yearning, almost something for a soundtrack.
After three or four listens, I’m left with a positive, if a bit of an odd impression. It’s odd in that parts of it really stick out for me—that he parts stick out—but parts of it feel like the whole is greater than the parts. As a radio DJ, I like the former and as a music listener, especially one who usually listens to albums rather than songs, I like the latter. Time has yet to tell whether it’ll be primarily the former or the latter in my mind.
Andrew Bird appears at the Fillmore with Apostle of Hustle on May 1. Armchari Apocrypha is available from insound.