...And the Mysterious Production of Eggs FOUR STARS
Schizophrenic indie pop? Postmodern singer-songwriter? I'm struggling to find a label that encompasses Andrew Bird's fifth's album (his second solo release since dropping the Bowl of Fire). How about this, then? Rufus Wainwright, Django Reinhardt, the Beatles, the rhythm section from Pink Martini and six whirling dervishes all meet up for a jam session in a kewpie doll parade in post-apocalyptic North Platte. No, that's not it, either.
A classically trained violinist (formerly the fiddler for the Squirrel Nut Zippers), a lithe and jazzy guitarist and a mellifluous whistler, Bird seems aimed to confound -- and never more so than with this release, which swerves across genres and styles with defiant ease. In the course of one song, "Opposite Day," Bird jams in elements of uber-melodic indie pop, chamber music, Star Trek scores and even a jazz epilogue.
Crooning cryptically about MX missiles, the Brothers Grimm and trading "butterfly knives for Adderall," Bird plays hard to get, musically and lyrically. But once you get him, he just keeps on giving. -- Joel Smith
A Tiger Dancing FOUR STARS
Hip-hop, like most things, is best in its purest form. It's a genre at its best when left untouched, just the way it was recorded. Think about it: the Roots' Do You Want More?!!!??!, Jurassic 5's Power in Numbers, Aesop Rock's Float -- all raw, uncooked, authentic hip-hop. When you package the genre, shine it, polish it and adjust it -- that's when a hip-hop record becomes average. For artists, ignoring all the bells and whistles of the recording studio is hard to do, so when you do come across a record still in raw form, you'd better cough up the change to add it to your collection.
Enter my surprise at the young-but-experienced Minnesota-bred Heiruspecs. Their latest, A Tiger Dancing, is diverse, proficient, masterful and bell-and-whistle-free. These hip-hop prodigies produced an expert encyclopedia of the genre in Tiger, with plunky basslines, new wave keyboards, Uzi-fast flows. They mix it up, make you laugh and shake you to the core. Heiruspecs are hip-hop purists. -- Leah Sottile