Andrew Bird’s Noble Beast begins with lush orchestral strings right out of a Disney cartoon, complete with a zippity-doo-dah whistling solo. But then Bird starts singing about homeless sociopaths in a voice so smooth he may as well be singing about a fox and a hound who are BFFs. “Oh, no,” he croons, before more whistling.
The conflict between Bird’s occasionally dark lyrics and his sweet, gorgeous arrangements is just about the only tension in a record that doesn’t rock so much as roll along pleasantly. On first listen, Beast sounds like average coffee-shop fare, but the extended white-noise, Latin-percussion outro of “Masterswarm” and the 7/8 section of the restless “Anonanimal” (in which Bird nails a particularly difficult vocal line seemingly effortlessly) dispel that notion.
Aside from Bird’s classical training, his vocabulary skills also come in handy with songs like “Tenuousness” and “Nomenclature.” (Dude even makes a hook out of the word “souverian.”) Noble Beasts won’t upset the latté-sipping crowd, but there’s a lot to drink in for the wide-awake, initiated listener.