It may seem somewhat misleading to call Andrew Bird underrated. He’s written about regularly in every publication that pays attention, and even occasionally in those that don’t (hello, GQ); he sells out medium-sized venues all over the country, and he has a steadily growing, devoted fanbase that’s stuck with him for the better part of a decade. But because so much of the attention he gets, particularly from the press, seems to focus on either the mostly uninteresting fact that he plays the violin rather than the guitar, or the admittedly more interesting fact that he’s a really, really good whistler who’s not afraid to show it, it starts to seem like people are still managing to short-change him, even in their attempts to lather him with praise. What people tend to lose sight of is that these quirky qualities alone wouldn’t mean much of anything if the songs he wrote weren’t so undeniably good.
Armchair Apocrypha is his sixth full-length release, and the follow-up to 2005’s outstanding The Mysterious Production of Eggs. It’s a dense, brainy collection that immediately gives you the distinct feeling that you’re listening to a fully formed album rather than a hastily arranged batch of songs. From the outset of the opener ‘Fiery Crash’, with its jittery tempo and slightly offbeat rhythm, the most obviously notable thing happening is Bird’s ridiculous, obsessive attention to detail. The arrangements are unorthodox, which is admirable, but it’s actually the song structures that keep things so interesting. There are breakdowns and memorable little vocal breaks, like the kind you’d hear in really good pop-punk songs, only with a more understated flair for elegant drama. His voice is strong and deep and wonderfully expressive, perfectly suited for the simple, effective melodies he’s so adept at writing. And his lyrics — they jump out at you when you least expect it, only after you’ve found yourself joyously singing along to the refrain of “thank god it’s fatal!” do you realize there’s a whole other layer of things worthy of your attention here. In fact, knowing what we know about Bird, it’s starting to seem more and more as if we’ve only begun to scratch the surface.