Thursday, December 17, 2009

Album of the Decade....

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Andrew Bird

The Mysterious Production of Eggs

[Righteous Babe; 2005]

Nearly five years after its release, Andrew Bird's The Mysterious Production of Eggs remains one of the few albums from this decade that sounds unlike anything that came before it. Three years in the making, the record marked a dramatic stylistic shift for its creator; instead of repeating or even refining the mostly pastoral sounds of Weather Systems, Bird instead created a sprawling album of layered instrumentation, evocative arrangements and expert lyricism. Addressing predominantly dark subject matter with a mixture of sympathy, defiance and dry humor, the record managed to sound both timeless and timely, a quality that has only increased in subsequent years.

Though Bird's vocals still draw mostly inaccurate comparisons to everyone from Paul Simon to Thom Yorke and Jeff Buckley, Eggs' instrumental foundation is still difficult to categorize. Restrained songs like "Sovay," "MX Missiles" and "Masterfade" are defined by images of mortality and childhood memories as they bend and sway against Bird's careful arrangements, while the blasts of instrumentation that begin and end the morbidly humorous "Fake Palindromes" are largely unlike anything Bird had recorded up to that point. Violin, glockenspiel, guitar and other instruments are applied throughout, yet the album never sounds overly manufactured; even Bird's frequent whistling never feels self-conscious.

Eggs forgoes linear narratives in favor of striking images and clever wordplay. Though it's a bit dicey to call the album prophetic, its relevance to this decade is immediately recognizable: greedy bastards cash in at others' expense, soldiers march off to war, the economy and its financial institutions crumble. Yet even if the world Bird depicts throughout Eggs is markedly bleak, most of its fatalism is tempered with optimism or, at least, benign acceptance. In this way, the apocalypse of "Tables and Chairs" is greeted not with despair but instead with a celebration, complete with dancing bears, a band, Adderall and, of course, snacks, while "Opposite Day" envisions a new social order where society's grunts take charge and the powers-that-be find themselves incarcerated or in hell.

Andrew Bird released a string of outstanding albums this decade - the idyllic Weather Systems, the expansive Armchair Apocrypha and this year's solid Noble Beast - and while each effort demonstrated a different side of Bird's musical vision, none of these records matched The Mysterious Production of Eggs in both depth and ambition. A nuanced album whose charismatic lyrical vagaries and instrumental flourishes never deteriorate into excess or pretentiousness, it stands as one of this decade's most singular, focused and inscrutable releases. - Eric Dennis

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