When you hear that Andrew Bird is back with all the bells and whistles, you can take that at its most literal meaning. Chicago’s beloved multi-instrumentalist is known for cobbling together pieces that are less songs than sound sculptures, and Noble Beast doesn’t much stray from that formula—among the noisemakers listed amid the samples and loops in the liner notes are various synthesizers, cardboard-box drums, woodwind instruments and, yes, Bird’s trademark whistling, which often carries the melody on its whimsical, meandering path.
The biggest development in Bird’s oeuvre is the advancement of his vocals. No longer muffled under a bed of sonic insulation, Bird has found his voice, and on Noble Beast it rings true in its own poignant way, fragile as a house of cards but not dripping with false emotion. He echoes Ryan Adams or Neil Young on his slower, low-key chill tunes (“Natural Disaster,” “The Privateers”), and he’s got something of a Beck thing going on on the groovier toe-tappers (“Fitz and the Dizzyspells,” “Not a Robot, But a Ghost”). The centerpiece is “Effigy,” with its Irish-tinged fiddle and pipes and Kelly Hogan’s gentle harmonies telling of “a man who has spent too much time alone.”
That might have described the wonkish, reclusive Bird in the past, but Noble Beast reveals an artist who’s finally whistling to get your attention.