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Andrew Bird
Useless Creatures Meryl Trussler , November 10th, 2010 11:21

Andrew Bird is vocal to the point of boasting about the constant, immaculate conception of melodies in his head; melodies that seem to come from nowhere and crawl outwards towards an audience that smile like sleeping cats. But he is vocal in a more appreciable way about, indeed, his vocals. His lyrics are more consciously constructed, usually designed around the use of archaic, rare or splendid-sounding words. This winning combination makes songs that feel something like Theo Jansen’s kinetic sculptures - plucky, immensely intricate monsters that run along indefinitely by their own momentum.

So it seems Bird called this latest instrumental record Useless Creatures to suggest, and subsequently contradict, that without words his work is somehow deficient. It was originally released alongside last year’s Noble Beast, then called a “companion” but by its name its seemingly more like a foil. The tracks here do sometimes sound like scrapbooking – it’s not unheard of for Bird to rework a track, adding in a lyric here and a flourish there, and some of the scraps do sound very like his typical beginnings, ends, and album interludes. But they can equally be approached as finished pieces and appear suitably polished. The more sedate Creatures, such as 'The Barn Tapes' (at ten minutes) are definitely a nod to ambient and experimental music, recorded as they are in Bird’s own secret laboratory, his barn; 'Master Sigh' and 'Nyatiti' are bouncy, frivolous and dotted with Bird’s signature whistling; all else is a free-for-all to show off Bird’s inter-generic proficiency, with little bursts of folk, classical and jazz violin, as well as an extended study in African rhythms in 'Hot Math'.

It’s not earth-shattering or anything. No journalistic beauty-aches here. It’s just a pleasant illumination of the reaches of Bird’s brain, those rooms that have been left in relative darkness since his Bowl of Fire days. And it’s a pleasant thing to have playing while attending to other things - and it’s maybe even a little more listenable for showcasing only half of his talents at a time, for those of us that don’t wake up with fresh, glorious music in our heads. For those of us who are maybe slightly bitter that they usually wake up thinking about the chorus of 'I Don’t Like Cricket' instead of the beginnings to their own illustrious music career...