Singer/songwriters no longer live in the shadow of Cat Stevens and the acoustic founders of what’s become a strange sort of genre. While a strong voice and story-telling lyrics are still common ground for today’s versions, the backing music is far from limited to a six-string. Andrew Bird is an example of the evolution from these original musicians, as he backs his coffeehouse prose on Armchair Apocrypha with slick guitar rock and a slew of instruments for a far more expansive sound.
Armchair Apocrypha isn’t a simple album by any means. Lyrics fly by at a rapid pace, violins surge and drum beats hurdle through with both strong pace and impact. "Dark Matter" goes from an empty room vibe to an opera house filler. "Simple X" leaves no half-beat unturned in its mellow, but atom-splitting drum/vocal combination. Even the opener, "Fiery Crash" initially seems like an unassuming pop ballad through Bird’s deep vocals, but is finishes dense through the layered guitars, strings, and vocal harmonies. There’s far more to Armchair Apocrypha than the acoustic singing/songwriting of Bird’s past.
On Armchair Apocrypha, there are many moments of imaginative intricacy that only an orchestra-driven guitarist would incorporate. "Scythian Empire" balances a light, but quick, guitar strum with violin plucks, a high-pitched arpeggiation, and whistles to back a duet that’s far more complicated that its predecessors. "Plasticities" treads similar lines, but more strongly, with the addition of a xylophone and electric guitar. Most of the album possesses these multi-layerings, ebbing and flowing with excellent intentions.
The arrangements that Bird comes up with on Armchair Apocrypha surpass most of what we consider singer/songwriters. With an album like this, Bird helps redefine, or possible eradicate, the genre, as it can’t really summarize the limitations of a solo artist anymore. The album not only pushes Bird’s personal envelope but the greater envelope of the difficult category used to describe him.