Andrew Bird Armchair Apocrypha

[Fat Possum; 2007]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: indie folk-pop on violin
Others: Bowl of Fire, Kevin McDonnell, Nora O’Connor

There is no doubt in my mind that the best way to experience Andrew Bird is live. The quirky songwriter typically takes the stage alone, a violin in hand, a guitar slung across his shoulders, and a dozen pedals by his feet; as he goes back and forth between his instruments, he loops the sounds together to create his exquisite melodies. Oh yeah, he’s also a really good whistler. Unfortunately, no album can truly capture the spectacle of Bird, his loops and his various peculiarities, and those odd tics that make him so engaging in person; his theatrics simply don't translate onto recorded output. Still, Armchair Apocyrpha aptly showcases Bird’s songwriting talents and is a great introduction for new fans as the hard-working Bird inches his way towards well-deserved mainstream success.

The album starts off strong with “Fiery Crash,” an elegant ode to accepting one’s own mortality that shows off his typically clever lyrics: “You’ve gotta learn how to die/ if you wanna be alive/ To save our lives you’ve got to envision/ The fiery crash.” Longtime fans will also recognize the shrewdly named “Imitosis,” an excellent retread of live staple and Weather Systems highlight “I.” This time around, the song sports a lighter sound and a more up-tempo, Latin-influenced beat; now when Bird tells us “We’re all basically alone,” it’s more like “we’re alone -- let’s tango” instead of “we’re alone -- let’s walk off a cliff.” “Armchairs,” the longest song and album centerpiece, is another highlight. One of the few songs Bird has penned that tackles the time-worn subject of love gone awry, it ambles along casually until reaching its unexpectedly euphoric peak at the six-minute mark, with Bird showing an uncharacteristic amount of emotion in crying out “You didn’t write, you didn’t call/ It didn’t cross your mind at all.” Overall, Armchair Apocrypha only reinforces my opinion of Andrew Bird, whom in my mind is incapable of writing a bad song; though some will always be more memorable than others, a true lemon is still yet to be found.

Although Bird certainly isn’t breaking new ground in terms of his overall sound since his last album, he has still put out another solid record chock-full of witty lyricisms and lilting melodies that do a wonderful job of showing off his oh-so-smooth voice. His mastery of songwriting cannot be denied, and it’s time to get the word out. Since the Bowl of Fire days, I’ve thought Andrew Bird was totally underrated and deserved far more recognition outside of his Chicago hometown, while secretly being proud to be one of the few to know his talents. With this album, he’s surely going to get that national recognition, and I’m going to have to accept the consequences. I think I’m okay with that.

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