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In-Flight Movie

By John Brodeur

Andrew Bird

Noble Beast (Fat Possum)

Virtuosic violin playing; confident, almost muscular whistling; a whimsical sense of melody—all the things that add up to make Andrew Bird Andrew Bird are on display in “Oh No,” the breezy but ponderous opening track from Noble Beast. That ponderous quality follows into the opening moments of the seven-minute “Masterswarm,” a wandering slow-build that does a whole lot with very little: Acoustic guitar, hand claps, and the singer’s ever more expressive voice are adorned by plucked violin strings, single-note tremolo guitar, and that trademark whistle.

Bird also is known for his shape- shifting, anything-goes performances, in which the performer and his band build around live samples of voice and instruments, forming densely layered clouds of sound from a few hands and voices. But with Beast, Bird seems to have finally figured out how to marry the unpredictability of his live show with the endless possibilities of the studio. The modern-age claustrophobia that sometimes cluttered his last album (2007’s Armchair Apocrypha) is largely out as the instrumentation here is by and large organic, the arrangements expansive but sparse, giving the melodies room to swoop and soar and dart about the landscape.

And boy, do these melodies soar: “Effigy” is truly one for the ages, but there’s a winner in every song. Bird the lyricist is still a tough nut to crack, so wrapped up in words that it’s unlikely even he understands what he’s saying. But when music sounds like this, who cares what it means?

Halfway through the album—the closing moments of “Nomenclature” through the final pluck of “Anonanimal”—the beat-obsessed performer of Apocrypha reemerges. Even so, the placement is dramatic in context, to give the album shape. When Beast calms in its final third, you know you’ve been a part of something beautiful and true, an experience you’ll find yourself drawn to revisit time and time again.

Barons in the Attic

Greatest Hits Volume II (B3nson)

By now, the B3nson family’s reputation as a sort of musical circus is pretty well established around these parts, but until recently, one ring has dominated the show. As ringleaders Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned work toward national recognition, the fortunetellers, bearded ladies, and sword swallowers are getting their own share of the limelight. While labelmates Beware! The Other Head of Science blast a synth charge through the collective’s lo-fi envelope, Barons in the Attic stick to the uninhibited B3nson jangle on their self- produced debut: a record that captures the infectious living-room-guitar-party energy of their live shows. In no place is this better displayed than on “Talkin’ About Walkin’ Around,” an exuberant testament to and antidote for those “Albany blues” we all feel from time to time. The tracks can sound a bit haggard—evidence of the home recording—but, then, both the effect and its cause are kinda the point, and in no way limit the band’s sonic palette. “Charlie Jean” features a great dirging bridge of bells and accordion, and the woozy “Tango Song” takes its shape from both clanging and fuzzy guitars, trombone, xylophone, and vocalist Matt Hamilton’s searing harmonica. In the end, it’s the songwriting that stands out, as tempos leap and fall without forewarning, and tunes resolve in beer-swinging sing-along codas. It’s hard not to join in at the end of “Cemetery of Ex-Girlfriends” with the refrain “We’ll sing songs, love songs.” Just as it can be difficult to determine where in the B3nson collective one band ends and another begins, it’s hard as a listener not to feel like you also have a place in the mix. But then this, too, is kinda the point.

—Josh Potter

Animal Collective

Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino)

English band Spacemen 3 once attempted to sum up their whole oeuvre in one album title: Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To. Whether they were successful in their quest is debatable—I personally think they were terribly overrated, but I’ve also never been a junkie so I may have missed the point. I’ve also never tripped on ecstasy, but I get what Animal Collective are going for on their eighth LP. With Merriweather Post Pavilion, the Baltimore act accomplish the opposite of what Spacemen 3 set out to do—that is, they make music to take drugs to make music to. It’s expansive, wild, and ultimately inspiring stuff; “Summertime Clothes” will make you want to strip down and run for the nearest open field, and it’s freaking February, man. Few songs have captured the invigorating power of sunshine this well; and the whole album conjures that same disorienting but life-affirming feeling. Everything here sounds like “Revolution 9” and Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” crushed and cut and snorted. This may be the most refined Animal Collective album in that its melodies hew closest to what’s commonly referred to as “pop,” but there is nothing common about this music.

—John Brodeur


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