Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top 50 Albums of the 00s - #16: Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha

Yep, we're counting down the top 50. Click here for overview and criteria.

Of all the albums I've "first blushed" here, this is the only one that ended up in the Top 50. Others were very close, but couldn't quite make the cut. When I did the full digestion, I said the album is "easily Bird's most complete," and that statement still rings true. My appreciation of this record has only deepened since it was released. There is no mediocre track on it.

After removing most of his collaborators in favor of percussionist extraordinaire Martin Dosh, Andrew Bird uses Armchair Apocrypha as a chance to evolve yet again. It's not quite as dramatic as the shift seen a few albums earlier when he left behind the rustic, gypsy-inspired folk in favor of rustic avant-garde indie folk, but there's a shift in tone. From the album's opener, "Fiery Crash," it's clear that he's gunning for atmosphere instead of highlighting again his earlier flair for solos and winking irony. I'm still into his previous records. That's not a dig - just an observation of his evolution. At the same time, once we get deeper into the record, he shows a level of enthusiasm that he hasn't displayed before or since. While in other releases, he seems to approach the peaks just to take a quick look at the view, on this one, he's not afraid to linger in the dynamism.

Also at the same time, Bird delves deeply into harmonies with only himself. Songs that would have previously needed to play in layered tones with the vocals of Nora O'Connor now live in triplicate overdubs on their own. Hence we continue with the dynamism. And the other aspect he has added is some open space. His earlier records skipped from song to song, with each one eager to make its point. But a song like "Cataracts" leaves the listener filling in the gaps on his own, making the peaks all the more significant.

I could go on and on here, but don't want to bore you. My favorite tracks have changed many times, a sign of the strength of the record. But the three that always seem to be floating near the top are "Armchairs," "Dark Matter," and "Spare-ohs." I highly recommend purchasing this record. I still sounds new to me almost four years after its release.

And because everyone has come to this site a million times looking for the definition of "imitosis," let me give it my best shot. First of all, let's look at the background. It is clear that Bird is making a play on words, combining three of them together: I, Imitation, and Mitosis. Why did I include I? Because he is covering his old song by that name. Hence the concept of imitation in the first place.

In the new version, the point of view of the song has changed completely. The original has very few lyrics, but they are in the first-person plural. Now we are in third-person singular, talking about Poor Professor Pension, who is busy studying why so many things in nature are set in opposition to one another. Yet the overall theme is the same. Every person on the planet is so busy trying to figure everything out, we never come to the conclusion that we are inherently "alone."

But where does mitosis come into it? Mitosis refers to cell division starting in the nucleus of a cell. Its result is two cells that may be very similar but not necessarily identical. And this phenomenon is crucial to how all living things grow. So one could rightfully say that Bird is taking the nucleus of his old song and creating a new, similar song as he grows his very oeuvre. Bird's lyrics in the song seem to indicate that mitosis doesn't necessarily mean these "copied" cells have any reason to get along with one another and therefore we remain "all basically alone." Given that Bird is known for becoming tired of his own music, it is safe to assume that Imitosis has completely replaced I in his on-stage repertoire, further indication of these "split cells" not hanging out with each other.

So, in sum, the definition of Imitosis, as I can best approximate it is as follows: a process by which one personal output is built directly upon a previous work by the same entity, thus rendering the previous work less integral to the creator's overall body of work while, at the same time, improving said body.

Please feel free to comment on how this can be improved...

Previous Entries:
#17 - Jens Lekman - Oh You're So Silent, Jens
#18 - Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
#19 - Band of Horses - Everything All the Time
#20 - The Lawrence Arms - Oh! Calcutta!
#21 - Amy Winehouse - Back to Black
#22 - Mission of Burma - The Obliterati
#23 - Don Caballero - World Class Listening Problem
#24 - The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
#25 - Tapes 'n Tapes - The Loon
#26 - Kings of Leon - Aha Shake Heartbreak

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