Merriweather Post Pavilion. Well, it's just as good as everyone says, really. What they've worked out, possibly with the aid of Panda Bear's Person Pitch album, is how not just to be rhythmic campire folkies or glitchy psychedelics or Beach Boys indebted heavenly harmonic shamen or post-house acoustic beatmakers but to find a happy medium between them all while allowing the songs to shine. Gorgeous melodies come more to the fore than ever before and the temptation they've previously succumbed to to bury any hint of pop aesthetics in electronic trickery or pull it apart methodically is buried. It's got groove, it's got meaning. More than anything, it's got a soul, and with this level of careful layering, thumping club bass versus freak folk and odd talismanic momentum moments that's a special thing to pull off.
But you know all that, because especially now you don't need to read another bedroom bound blogger drone on about how special it all sounds. So let's talk about another album, one that won't grab the limelight in every review; Noble Beast by Andrew Bird, released 2nd February.
At this distance it's looking like it's M Ward's turn in 2009 to get an attempted big push out of the alt-Americana rounds and into the mainstream's line of fire, following the She & Him sleeper hit with an album in Hold Time that seems set to take his sound to colossal extremes. Ward being big is of course no bad thing, even if hindsight suggests Post-War wasn't really the top ten album of the year we acclaimed it as at the time, but it does mean some fellow travellers in timeline and genre terms have to wait their turn once again. Andrew Bird is foremost among these, a prolific violin-wielding/sawing/plucking whistle-friendly (23 seconds it takes that to kick in here) singer-songwriter and one time conservatory training rebel who often comes across as a more linear Final Fantasy. Perhaps for that reason we'd never quite warmed to him before now, but Noble Beast sees him take his arrangements and strip them back to something more light and direct, almost approachable for mainstream use. Almost, of course, because his lilting voice expresses resonantly worded tales layered in detail and cryptic reference points while remaining on nodding terms with the pastoral oddness of freak folk that once took him as their own envoy to the wider world. It's a warm sounding album, layered in bells and handclaps around his delicately complex violin backing, self-created percussive loops and stabs at being the alt-Roger Whittaker, soothing if slightly reserved, laced with alt-country, Balkan folk, Spanish guitars and Shins-esque adult pop. It's a style that fits him well through careful amendments and one that seems purely his, easy to approach but never too comfortable and giving up new details and high points on further listens even for something so on face value sparsely produced. It's very smart stuff to make something so precise sound so soft and worth investigating.