In "Plasticities," one of the prettiest tunes on his very pretty new album, Chicago-based Andrew Bird takes a cheap shot at Top 40 pop: "How can they be wrong," he sneers over eerie violin plinks, "when by committee they choose it all?" Hey, if a boardroom full of profit-hungry stockholders can come up with something as bewitching as Omarion's "Icebox," I've got no problem with creation-by-consensus.
That said, you can see where Bird's coming from: His large body of work—Armchair Apocrypha is his seventh studio full-length—makes a convincing argument for the pursuit of a singular vision. Bird made his last couple of albums mostly by himself in a barn on his family's farm in northwestern Illinois, which gave his music—a quirky mélange of folk, pop, and old-school jazz—an appealingly introspective potency.
Much of Armchair was recorded here, in collaboration with local multi-instrumentalist Martin Dosh, who's accompanied Bird on tour. (The CD also features guest spots by Twin Cities mainstays Haley Bonar and Mason Jennings sideman Chris Morrissey.) But the new stuff still feels like the product of Bird's late-night soul-searching sessions. In opener "Fiery Crash" he envisions an airplane going down, then draws up a blanket of his own harmonized vocals for comfort. "Scythian Empire" offers Bird's CNN-fueled musings on the Middle East. (Who knew "Halliburton" rhymed with anything?) Best of all is "Imitosis," an indie-folk version of Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas's "Smooth" in which the singer admits that "we were all basically alone." Bird faces that fact with uncommon style.