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The first track Andrew Bird lashes into, to begin his European tour in Amsterdam, seems a little odd. To the best of my knowledge it’s taken from the intro to ‘Armchairs’, from his gorgeous Armchair Apocrypha LP, and influenced or borrowed outright from the string quartet in F Major by classical composer Maurice Ravel. An instrumental, psychedelic, bafflingly loud hello, and how are you?, each note swirls through a bevy of atmospheric post-rock, so much so that it spontaneously combusts thirty seconds in into a perfect storm of sound led by fiddle jabs and bass beams. Built on a seamless mélange of delays, looping and sampling, this welcome note is foreboding, frightening and utterly entrancing.
It’s short, a few minutes at most, but said intro’s long enough to rile up the masses (and the Dutch are a tough crowd to rile). This usually stoic, typically ambivalent crowd is actually dancing. Well, they’re swaying enough that I can just about stretch it to calling it dancing: quite the feat, either way. After a few seconds of silence follows the storm: Bird introduces ‘Heretics’. This sly melodic gem is different, more sarcastic than banal, as instead of summoning apocalyptic tones the melody chooses to accept the inevitable. It’s loveable, but not in a smile-as-we-all-descend-into-hell sort of way; instead, song two begs for a more introspective mood, one that engenders a good think about what we did to summon said ride to hell. Two songs in and I am knackered.
Bird continues to coalesce chaos and the sublime, summoning both at different times through a masterful management of instruments, sounds, samples and whistling. These songs are built to be played by a full band, complete with horn section and string quartet, but Bird, alongside Martin Dosh and guitarist Jeremy Yivisaker (Alpha Consumer), manage by using two or three instruments each per song, over a layering technique that constructs immense, bellowing sounds to play with while switching from one tool to the next. ‘Fiery Crash’, a menacing call-to-arms, is slowly developed by sparsely intersecting four violin parts over a simple trap rhythm, Fender Rhodes pokes and bass washes, while album standout ‘Plastocities’ survives on artificially packaged delays and vocal samples. Here, Bird builds up a string quartet to roll through the melody, and a choir to sing it, by himself. Consequently, the dancing continues - lanky, uncoordinated and all - as each song showcases Bird’s vast talent and mathematical ingenuity to arrange such a complicated set of sounds succinctly. At times the fiddler goes at it alone, wielding off a cross between a Baroque-era fugue and a death metal sonnet. At other moments, Dosh takes control, carefully playing keys and drums at the same time while Bird simply whistles in accompaniment. ‘Dear Dirty’, delivered immediately after Bird’s solo meanderings, is such an example – additionally, it rivals the intro in competition for the_ experimentally fucked-up to the point of tranquillity _contest.
The set’s a highly constructed, sometimes senseless but ever interesting feast; a puzzling, dreamy example of how experimental pop music can be if one actually cares about exploring its mealy innards. In every sample and cordial sonic building block, everyone, dancing or not, is mesmerized by Bird's songs, and how he and his band puts this mess of ideas together in the first place, to fit in such a transcendent way. Hell, if the apocalypse is coming and the bees are really warning us by leaving before the going gets bad, I hope the four horsemen put Mr Bird on the stereo while they purge the world of all those glued to armchairs. If that is the case, I am fine with calling this whole apocryphal exercise quits.
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