Powerful rock—without power chords

Andrew Bird: Armchair Apocrypha

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The kitchen boombox has been heavy on the jazz lately. I thought it was time to pop something else on. And to further break the pattern, this is actually a new release!

My tastes in rock music lean heavily to power chords and F-bombs, preferably strung together in fast and LOUD punk songs that get in and get out in a couple of minutes or so. When I hear it live, I want to need earplugs and feel the bass in my chest.

So Mr. Bird’s latest disk, Armchair Apocrypha, was something of a departure for me. With lush violins, organs, acoustic guitars and even whistling, he weaves music much more layered and complex than the stuff I usually gravitate toward. One thing that makes it work for me is that, as Amazon reviewer Scott Holter says, “Strip away the music of an Andrew Bird song, and you’re left with brilliant prose.” To which I add prose that is not self-conscious, precocious or twee. Genuinely smart, indeed educated, language that he pulls off without sounding like he’s showing off. Rather, it sounds like he is just always paying attention. To everything.

The music sounds like that too. There are references to everything from Chinese music to Lou Reed. But they’re not done like Beck’s overt embraces of various genres [and don’t get me wrong—I love Beck]. Instead, you get the sense that Bird is always listening, always absorbing, always processing.

Even though I’ve found the album to be quite interesting [especially if I think of it just as music and not as rock—even alternative rock], you’d be totally justified in wondering what drew punk-loving me to it in the first place. It was the cover. What an amazing photograph. Simply amazing. Bird played on Letterman one night, and when Dave held up the cover, I was mesmerized. I only half listened to the music as I ran to the computer to get another look at the cover art on Amazon. Our friend Alma actually turned us on to the music itself. I like it. A lot. But when my third or fourth playing of it in as many days ended today on the subway ride home, I cued up a punk mix on my iPod and set the volume to “eleven!

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One Response to “Powerful rock—without power chords”

  1. Blake Says:

    If you get the urge for more Bird, check out his earlier album Mysterious Production of Eggs, perhaps his best. It’s one of my favorite recent albums, though I couldn’t tell you why. The whole thing pulses with this magnetic precision, masterful arrangements, impeccable songwriting, and abstruse lyrics that make strange sense on an unconscious level.

    I’ve tried to dismantle the songs, something I tend to do to music, and when I succeed I’m suddenly bored. But every time I try I get turned around and sent in a different direction. Then, when I saw him live he radically reinterpreted everything he played, going so far to make some songs only recognizable by their lyrics.

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