Andrew Bird's Bowl Of Fire : The Swimming Hour

Alternative rock with violins. No, come back! It's good!..

After two albums exploring

pre-World War Two styles (hot jazz, anyone?), Chicago-based fiddle prodigy Andrew Bird knew he was in danger of becoming a kind of curator of American music. So he popped to the store to buy his first modern record in years, and fortunately for us it wasFlaming Lips' kaleidoscopic classic, 'The Soft Bulletin'. Cue a transformation from worthy but essentially dull local attraction to playfully twisted bandleader, shortly to become the toast of the Americana set.

No wonder. 'The Swimming Hour' kicks off with a tongue-twisting slice of Pavement-esque pop called 'Two Way Action', and takes in a variety of bases and reference points, ancient and modern. Bird's ear for history shows its head on 'How Indiscreet' (pounding R&B of the Ray Charles vintage), while there's an obligatory dollop of nu-blues, too. Only on 'Satisfied' it is, of course, done with scraping violins.

Suitably eccentric to contain an ode to the "ice fields and tundra" of Greenland, but with enough proper musicianship to have the makers of Later... beating a path to his door, 'The Swimming Hour' is one of the year's most refreshing releases. And no, he doesn't have hair like Nigel Kennedy.

Martin Horsfield
7 / 10

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