Busting entirely out of the intimate space he created on 2003's Weather Systems, Andrew Bird inhabits an emotional range and resonance on his new album that we've only glimpsed elsewhere in his catalog. With Armchair Apocrypha (think apocalypse from the comfort of your own home), he has things to say and he doesn't care if he wakes the neighbors.
"Scythian Empires" is a scythe behind a curtain. Referencing the extinct ancient culture that tried to dominate much of the Middle East from the Russian Steppes, the song ponders the fate of absentee empires, name-checking Halliburton and the uselessness of its "attache cases". The passage of whistling-in-the-dark over breakbeats is a tour de force of incongruity.
In "Simple X", Bird whistles, croons and even trills over a subdued hip-hop beat. The song relates a simple morning routine, noting, "Some people wake up on Monday mornings...no explosions and no surprises" -- a reminder that we're the lucky ones.
The ontological "Darkmatter" is the darkest, noisiest Bird track ever, and then there are the shouts and whispers of "Heretics": What are you so upset about? Just "Thank God it's fatal, not shy of fatal."
These power tracks are generously cushioned by others much more serene, two of them blissfully incorporating actual birdsong. Somehow Bird has bundled up his unique gifts for formal arrangement and literate wit, and brought them along into this threatening new world.