Apocrypha is a noun and means “writings of questionable authenticity.” All dictionary meanings aside, there is no question of the authenticity of Andrew Bird’s talent. Armchair Apocrypha is the classically trained violinist’s newest release and showcases his penchant for perfectly placed string plucking in the midst of beautifully written songs. While this ambitious album may be a bit boring in spots to some who are accustomed to loud, hard and fast rock n’ roll, the deeply talented Bird has made an album of dreamy folk-pop, full of excellent songwriting and brilliant orchestrations. (All while managing to not fall into arty pretentiousness.) Chicago-born Andrew Bird has had a fairly impressive career thus far, as he’s made some great music and worked with notable artists including Ani DiFranco and My Morning Jacket. Bird released Weather Systems in 2003 and The Mysterious Production of Eggs(Righteous Babe) in 2005, with both receiving much acclaim. Bird has also been an integral member of the band Bowl of Fire, and has performed with the Squirrel Nut Zippers; he even finds time to teach music at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chi-town.
Armchair Apocrypha is full of velvety hooks and swooning lines, and “Fiery Crash” starts the album off just right, with a peppy guitar and a little taste of Bird’s harmonies and poignant lyrics. This track proves that Bird can make bliss out of something as dull as an airport: “turnstiles on mezzanine // jet ways and Dramamine fiends // and x-ray machines // you were hurling through space // g-forces twisting your face.”
“Imitosis” is Bird’s Brazilian-style romp and showcases his influences of different musical styles. “Plasticities” is wistful and eclectic, followed up by the catchiness of “Heretics.” “Dark Matter” is the favorite here, with playful lyrics: “when I was just a little boy // I threw away all of my action toys // while I became obsessed with Operation…” “Simple X” is a great track, mixing eerie background whistles over a cool snare beat. “Cataracts” also shows off Bird’s more-than-adequate songwriting abilities, and additional appropriately-timed whistling is thrown in for good measure: “when our mouths are filled with uninvited tongues of others // and the strays are pining for their unrequited mothers // milk that spoils is promptly spat // light will fill our eyes like cats.”
“Scythian Empires” (featured recently on NPR) is the crowning track of the album, and with minimal lyrics manages to be sophisticated; the song is made complete by violin plucking and birds chirping. (Bird is known for playing his violin sideways, like a guitar.) The hidden track “Yawny and the Apocalypse” is well worth the cost of Armchair Apocrypha. If you are a fan of Andrew Bird’s earlier works, you will not be disappointed with this ambitious album. And if you’re not a fan, well, this album is confirmation that you should be.
(Fat Possum Records)