March 24, 2007

Birds & Ships

Is it just me, or did the labels perform a veritable dump of notable new releases this week? While I appreciate the gesture, an unemployed student such as myself can only buy so many new records. After weighing my options (and considering the fact that I recently blew far too much money pre-ordering Sky Blue Sky), I settled on obtaining genuine compact discs of Andrew Bird's Armchair Apocrypha and Modest Mouse's We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. I now present you with my reviews, to assist with your own purchasing dilemmas:

Armchair Apocrypha - Andrew Bird
Not content to merely stick to the formula that seemed to work on his acclaimed 2005 release, The Mysterious Production of Eggs, Andrew Bird forges forward on his newest record, covering new ground while revisiting notable songs of his past. Perhaps the biggest departure for Bird is his use of guitar, an instrument he has shied away from in the past. However, it all works brilliantly, which can only be expected from such a talented arranger. Guitar riffs are featured prominently next to the usual violin strains and whistling on upbeat tracks such as "Heretics" and "Plasticites", backed by the minimalistic beats of Martin Dosh. Bird's lyrics are as interesting and far fetched as ever; "Dark Matter" is about his dream of being a surgeon, while "Scythian Empires" compares current US foreign policy to the conquests of an ancient Iranian tribe (yes, I had to look that one up on the Wikipedia). What impresses me the most is the album's excellent flow, effortlessly drifting from song to song, and making use of an instrumental interlude as well as a two-song closer. Bottom line; if you're a fan of Bird's work you'll enjoy this record, but even if you're not, this is the one that will change your mind.

We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank - Modest Mouse
After the "Float On" driven debacle that was Good News People for People Who Love Bad News, Issac Brock inches his way closer to radio-friendly rock with his band's newest lengthily-titled release. However, now more accustomed to their new-found pop sensibilities, Modest Mouse is finding their niche in a genre crowded with blandness. The addition of ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr is more appropriate than I thought it would be, he hangs with the usual herky-jerky riffs but also brings the wailing solos on a few tracks. Songs range from the incredibly pop-y ("Dashboard", "Florida") to more tradition Mouse fare ("March into the Sea", "Steam Engenius"). My favorite of the bunch, "Missed the Boat", finds Brock and company channeling an almost Wilco-esque vibe (mainly because the intro reminds me of "Muzzle of Bees"). I'm also quite partial to "People as Places as People", which almost sounds like an outtake from the Moon and Antarctica sessions. The production is slick throughout the entire album, sometimes a little too much so. Those expecting the semi-lo-fi vibe of Long Drive have probably already given up on the Mouse by now anyways. But if you're willing to look past the slightly different sound, there's an album here that's worth listening to. It's certainly better than Good News was, and I doubt you'll be bombarded with any of these tunes a la "Float On" anytime soon.

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