When considering an album to include in our regular Perversity series, one of the main criteria we use is the age of an album. If something’s been out for four months or longer, it has a pretty good chance of being part of this elite `second chance’ batch. So, why, then am I throwing in Andrew Bird’s Armchair Apocrypha, an album released less than two months ago? Well, the answer is a bit complicated. I could have written a standard review to be published a little late, and that could have been fine. Certainly Treble has discovered gems a few months after a release date and have had no problem posting a review as-is. But Andrew Bird deserves better than that.
Andrew Bird’s Armchair Apocrypha is good. Really good. Album of the week good, if you must know. But in waiting this long, one runs the risk of looking a tad outdated. Yet not writing anything at all would leave me feeling as if I had some unfinished business. I may have only recently come to revel in the joys of Bird’s latest, but it doesn’t take long to fall in love with this superb pop record. Bird wowed Treble before with his Mysterious Production of Eggs, even ending up as our 19th favorite album of 2005. But Armchair Apocrypha has a similar kind of musical grace and wit, with a bit more of a pop edge. In fact, this album could potentially land a higher spot this year.
While Eggs was a catchy, whimsical pop album with jazzy flourishes, Armchair has Bird layering on a stronger guitar presence, albeit one backed with the whistling and violin we’ve come to love from the Chicago songwriter. Opener “Fiery Crash” has one of the most rock-sounding arrangements Bird has ever put together, though his gentle vocal delivery is unmistakable, particularly when he wryly intones “the fiery crash/ it’s just a formality.” Better yet, the sensational satire becomes pun-worthy as he sings, “Lou Dobbs and the CNN team/ on every monitor screen/ you were caught in the crossfire.” Song two reminds us again of that old Andrew Bird sound, “Imitosis” being something of a rewrite of 2003’s “I” from the brief, yet lovely Weather Systems album. The exotic riff is still strongly in place, with science-themed lyrics like “turning to a playground in a Petri dish/ where single cells would swing their fists,” echoing 2005’s “Measuring Cups.”
With “Plasticities,” Bird injects his delicate folk pop with a soaring, irresistible chorus, while “Heretics” takes another stab at hit single, guitars intertwining in harmony, a giant rock epic swelling Arcade Fire-style. Both of these tracks are absolutely sublime, but merely lead up to the lengthy, epic “Armchairs,” a seven-minute Jeff Buckley-esque wonder. One review even described it as his “Lover, You Should Have Come Over,” and damn if that’s not right on the mark. At five minutes, “Darkmatter” doesn’t quite draw out the emotional pull like its preceding track, but still builds magnificently. Martin Dosh’s upbeat drum programming lends a bit of laid-back danceability to “Simple X,” while the tongue-in-cheek apocalypse hoedown “Scythian Empire” finds Bird assuring that “their Halliburton attaché cases are useless.”
Bird is one delightful songwriter, an extremely talented performer, and by and large one of the most creative musicians on the planet. Relatively speaking, Armchair Apocrypha is about as much of a rock album as he’s going to record, and it’s a doozy. And I feel that much sillier for not having picked it up sooner.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.