Shearwater - Animal Joy

Shearwater fly higher than ever before.

Label: Sub Pop

Rating: 8

When Jonathan Meiburg and Will Sheff, of Okkervil River, conjured up a collection of tracks whose quietude and peacefulness didn’t quite slot into the sound of their critically applauded original group, the duo span off to create Shearwater, a side project built around the hushed side of their musical personalities. Eight albums in beneath this ornithological moniker (with only Freiburg remaining from the initial duo) and, whilst the underlying calm remains, things are sounding bolder and braver, soaring rather than strolling. Animal Joy is, for lack of a better word, rich and textured, packed to the brim with a dense, congealed instrumentation alongside the elegantly high vocals of Meiburg.

An environmental theme trickles through the record, unsurprisingly given the title of the piece and the bird-based name of the band (spurned by a love of flighted creatures from Meiburg), ballooning outwards into an expansive sound that mimics the immensity of the natural world. ‘Animal Life’ opens the record, pounding into a bestial look at human experience with clanging melodies and lines that scream for you to look at the beauty of life and grasp every prospective opportunity, as Meiburg wails “No joy of building love in the finishing”. There is a processional quality to the flow and ebb of the music, from the steady stomp of ‘Dread Sovereign’ to the ethereal wandering of ‘Run The Banner Down’, following a life cycle through highs and lows, joy and pain.

‘You As You Were’ is a prime illustration of the subdued sense of rumination that Shearwater are capable of, utilising ticking percussion and repetitive piano to serve as a backdrop for the building tension that stirs in the likes of Arcade Fire and Wild Beasts, topped to perfection with the exhilarating vocal increment. Here and there, tracks do feel displaced, such as the six-minute long industrial hum of ‘Insolence’ or the uncomfortably frenetic ‘Pushing The River’. Nonetheless, for the most part Shearwater possess a thriving pulse that sprints throughout the record, deftly hopping from indie rock to indie pop from track to track (a very line, fine line in this case).

By the time you get to the closer, ‘Star Of The Age’, Meiburg has thrown off the shackles of the earthen world of humans, animals, dirt and rocks. Calling out “an emptiness burns away, trade the darkness of your mind for the star of the age,” Meiburg and the group have swapped the muddy tranquillity that kept them muted and unheard for a daring dose of starry eyed wonderment that really should unleash the groups collective wings, enabling them to fly higher than ever before.