Album Review

Andrew Bird "Useless Creatures"

Rachel Mooney
Although classical violin is not my forte, I have never had trouble discerning Andrew Bird from the masses; the man is bold. Opening track ‘Master Sign’ tiptoes fluidly into my senses, giving me the immediate allusion of a Walt Disney classic, full of fantasy, chirping birds and whistling whimsy alike. Aside from Bird’s fantastic solos scantly punctuating the music, ‘You Woke Me Up’ crescendos into what is literally one of the most beautifully simple songs I have heard in my life. It is utterly moving in its surreal melody and transformative, too; quoting Plath, ‘I close my eyes and the world is dead, I lift my eyes and all is born again.’ This song and many tracks on Useless Creatures are disarming in their seemed minimalism yet so rich in texture and emotion. Bird’s picked violin demands attention yet blends among the other aesthetically luxurious noises.

‘Nyatiti’ is pulse-like and as tantalizing to the ears as it is fun to say. The opening violin is simply exquisite and again, Bird’s whistling accompanies an almost Caribbean beat muddled with percussion. It is Zouk music in its finest, and I must move my body at once. ‘The Barn Tapes,’ almost tells an orchestral story. Opening slowly and swelling into something profound before evaporating dissonantly into a melancholy melody, this haunting track deliberately gives the impression that something is slightly askew. This ten minute track is the most bizarre song on the album but again, this is Andrew Bird, so bold and haunting melodies or in this case the almost lack of melody and reason are to be expected.

‘Carrion Suite,’ is also poignant and sounds a bit like motion to me; the turning of a churn, the rhythmic drum beats and violin-like movements of a waltz. ‘Hot Math,’ is a personal favorite and in my opinion the most fantastical song on the album. The rhythm is interesting and engaging and seems influenced by both African and Eastern Asian musical temperaments in its off beats, time signatures and unexpected undulations. Bird closes with ‘Sigh Master,’ and all is well with the world again. Loop and repeat and you will be contented for long to come.

Both stirring and moving, Bird’s music on Useless Creatures seems like an experiment gone terribly right. Because it’s instrumental, there are no words to guide you but if the listener closes her eyes, it sounds as though the music requires her to put out her hands and feel her way through the album. By this same notion, the music is in its own right fleeting and transitory, like embers to the wind. Useless Creatures is an exquisite and experimental tour de force I would strongly recommend adding to your rotation.