Don’t play Andrew Bird at Scrabble – the loquacious Chicago songsmith riddles his tunes with 50-point verbiage. A passage in the sauntering ‘Natural Disaster’ runs, ‘Malarial alleys/Where the kittens have pleurisy/Donning our goggles/Valerian ogles/To see microscopically/A colony of dermestids.’ Good lord, that makes Francis Scott Key sound like Mötley Crüe. To his credit, Bird makes such tongue-seizing couplets as melodically dainty as his avian namesake. And like a radio-addicted wren, he continues to whistle prodigiously on mannered prog-folk numbers such as ‘Masterswarm’.
In contrast with 2007’s electronically flecked Armchair Apocrypha, Bird’s eighth, Noble Beast, stretches plaintive guitar numbers into auburn horizons. It’s the perfect setting, where Bird’s singing-cowboy persona can amble past chittering percussion, scrub brush of violin plucks and looping harmonies blown through like tumbleweed.
Yet Bird’s eggheadedness is often his greatest weakness. A product of the Suzuki method of musical education, the farm-dwelling academic has yet to meet a song structure he hasn’t studiously disassembled or write a yarn he hasn’t pulled apart into its composite threads. The editing and condensation of these five-minute tunes would do wonders.
Too often, Bird pins his curious insects of songs under glass, losing some of the natural splendour that so clearly influences him. Still, in an age of Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? and kid flicks written around flatulence, it’s hard to begrudge a musician firing so many brain synapses.
Late Of The Pier
Fantasy Black Channel
Decades ago, Emerson, Lake and Palmer made progressive a dirty word in rock ’n’ roll with excessive, showy and quite boring virtuosity. Fortunately, four young men from Castle Donington, a small town in the middle of England, are too young to remember. The guys in Late Of The Pier are barely 21, but they’ve built buzz on a foundation of under-18 gigs, youth fests and self-released singles on their own label.
Recently, the likes of The Mars Volta have made stages safe for unimpeded fusion explorations, kooky fluid time signatures and ambitious instrumentalism. LOTP tap into that expansive mode on their debut album while sparing us the treatises on pre-Colombian tribal sacrifice.
No, here quirky indulgences are packed into brilliant, risky pop tunes. Fantasy Black Channel plays off the elliptical logic of arty postpunk. The band may reach for the stars in terms of their arrangements and off-balance rhythms, but sonically they’ve aligned themselves with NME-reader-friendly glow-stick fare via tastemaking DJ-producer Erol Alkan.
Slivers of thoughts from some imagined, unreleased Roxy Music album, as on the phenomenal ‘The Enemy Are The Future’, find singer Sam Eastgate intoning, ‘It’s an easy life, it’s a hard life,’ until a giant robot stomps on the glittering ’80s robodisco, shooting with laser eyes during a frantic bongo solo. The gurgling jungle funk of ‘The Bears Are Coming’ makes trippy American hipsters Animal Collective sound like John Denver doing Valium.
At its most conventional, as on ‘Space And The Woods,’ LOTP are a nu-rave update of Gary Numan’s Tubeway Army. More often, these adolescents pull off death-defying stunts with a restless imagination. Some youths aren’t always wasted, after all.
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