Acerbic Ephemera From a Wry Orchestral Phenom

Touchstones in Andrew Bird's bio are entirely misleading. Sure, in the mid '90s he zoot-suited up to fiddle with the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Ani DiFranco fronted him the cash for his 2005 opus The Mysterious Production of Eggs. And his seventh album, Armchair Apocrypha, is out now on the venerable blues label Fat Possum—suddenly also home to the Fiery Furnaces and Dinosaur Jr.

In the past decade, however, rather than reviving swing, protesting with knee-jerk lefty folk, or channeling blind bluesmen, Bird has combined '50s-style rock with the tender chamber pluck of his trusty violin, a baroque sensibility for arrangement, and a literate bent for witty, whimsical wordplay that makes even a premonition of death by airplane mishap seem insouciant—see Armchair's insistent opener "Fiery Crash," with its reference to a "face stuck to a vinyl settee" and a dropped phone call "just as you were going to say/Something apropos, I don't know."

Bird perfected his craft with Eggs, a meticulously presented platter of moods and textures, fingerpicks and strums. Armchair is a bit more accessible and less subtle, less of a single statement, but with more individual standouts. "Heretics" combines churning rhythms with blithely bowed violin swirls to give weightlessness to talk of a coup. "Simple X" is mash-up fodder, matching a wavering croon over slapdash drums and shambolic percussion loops. Perhaps the best example of Bird's newly expansive sound, though, is "Imitosis," an update of the track "I" from 2003's Weather Systems. In its past incarnation, the song's treatment was a spare and hesitant rumination, while here it's been dressed up with all the bells and whistles in Bird's bag (including actual bells and whistles), a strident revision meant to transcend, not unsettle.

 
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