Never content to sit still and make the same record over and over again, Andrew Bird is one of those artists that creates delightful music that is enjoyed by everyone from jam-band audiences to NPR-listeners to people who might not normally go for his slightly more mellow brand of indie pop. I fall into those latter two groups, and although I don't consider myself a member of the typical coffee-house crowd, I do appreciate good songs, and Bird has really been honing his craft, culminating in a good album with Weather Systems, a great album in The Mysterious Production Of Eggs, and now another gem in Armchair Apocrypha.
For one thing, Bird is one of only a handful or two of current singer songwriters who I consider to be a truly great lyricist. True, he gets a bit clever for his own good in a few places, but his word craft is simply outstanding in most places, conjuring up thoughtful lines that capture the beauty, frustrations, happiness, and downright absurdity of the world we live in. His music follows suit largely as well, with songs that move on odd time signatures with interesting instrumentation and of course touches of his whimsical whistling.
One thing that's easy to notice about the new album is that guitar is used much more prominently than on his other albums, and usually it's not a bad thing at all. Opener "Fiery Crash" mixes electric piano, swoops of strings, some shuttling drums, and subdued vocals with dark lyrics into a gem of a song that begs for singing along. "Imitosis" follows, and again finds Bird plumbing his psyche lyrically while recycling a melody from both of his previous albums and turning in a song that betters both of them.
The strong opening continues with "Plasticities," and the song is easily one of the better on the entire release, blending plucked strings, some subdued guitar that gurgles over in places and vocals that move from whispered to defiant. It's never rocking in a traditional way, but like the best of his songs, it's insanely hooky, with soft builds that turn into a pretty blowouts and words that lodge in your head. As mentioned above, the more guitar-driven songs (like "Heretic" and "Dark Matter") seem to fall into a bit more traditional structures and don't hold up quite as well, but even then there are still some nice payoffs.
In places, Bird drops to practically neo-classical, and the results are flat-out gorgeous. The minute-long "The Supine" could easily go on for three times as long and still stun, while the album closer "Yawny And The Apocolypse" mixes field recordings and aching strings into something that is heartbreaking. For my money, the best song on the release is the piano/guitar driven "Scythian Empires," where Bird tackles the current war with his usual aplomb lyrically while musically backing it with understated and touching music that serves to highlight the words. As a whole, the album doesn't stand up quite as well as The Mysterious Production Of Eggs, but it's still another solid entry in Bird's discography.