on February 14, 2012
Dear Music Appreciators,
I am new to the world of Shearwater. As a virgin traveler of this musical landscape, if I had to choose one word to describe what I've been hearing I think it would be this:
Big sound. Big ideas. Powerful high-register vocals and tightly wound, nature-themed lyrics such as:
"...chasing down an anodyne and half-reflected radiance to hide below the ancient barricade/in chambers like the rooms a swallow made/for an animal life..."
This kind of probing intelligence combines with thumping drums and throbbing guitar lines in the opening tracks "Animal Life" and "Breaking the Yearlings" to broadcast a kind of musical "barbaric yawp" from the top of Mt. Shearwater, and I couldn't help but move to the edge of my seat and take notice. "Dread Sovereign" pulls back on the reins for a more reflective mood, but the galloping-down-the-mountain tempo returns with "You As You Were" and "Immaculate." And whether the band sets the pace fast, slow, or somewhere in between, the intensity never seems to falter.
This is legendary-sounding indie rock that tries to put its finger on man's ancient pulse in the natural world. This kind of music commands attention.
tl;dr summary: Animal Joy is an energetic record that doesn't lose the depth and quality of the last three. Shearwater fans are almost certain to love it, and people who were turned off in the past should give it a try. Sure to be one of my albums of the year.
I've been a Shearwater fan since they released the incredible Palo Santo (Bonus CD) (Exp) (Dig) in 2007. I loved 2008's Rook and 2010's The Golden Archipelago equally. They're frequently treated as a trilogy, but I've always thought that overblown. They differ in subject matter, instrumentation, even lyrical style. Palo Santo lyrics seem almost Shakespearean or King James Biblical, Rook sounds like the Grimm Brothers Fairy Tales, Golden Archipelago like poetry from a war front.
They do share qualities: high stakes in the subject matter, images drawn from the natural world, an unapologetically dramatic bent to the performances (but fully appropriate to the songs), excellent musicianship, dense and rich soundscapes, and the unearthly voice of Jonathan Meiburg. Despite these common qualities, some people who liked Palo Santo were put off by the conceptiness and remoteness of Rook and TGA. I can understand: many people want songs that can relate directly to their own lives.
Animal Joy succeeds at splitting the difference: it's an album about people, about love and betrayal and loss and overcoming grief. But it doesn't lose sight of the wider world or indulge in mopiness or excessive navelgazing. And it mostly shares those qualities I identified above. It's unmistakeably a Shearwater album, but more immediate and close-to-home than ever.
Instrument use is much more economical: songs are based almost entirely around guitar, bass, keys, and drums. The drums are the most immediate change you notice when listening. With a few exceptions (Run the Banner Down), they're not as expressive or musical as previously, but they're far forward in the mix and produce an interesting immersive feeling. One of my few complaints about the album is that the metronomic kickdrum on Animal Life and You as You Were is house techno-esque and slightly distracting as a result.
While Jonathan Meiburg's voice is one of the most unique aspects of the band, it can make or break your appreciation for them. Some people are just not comfortable with beautiful voices. Part of the reason that Thom Yorke of Radiohead gets away with his falsetto is that his voice, though strong, is gritty and cracked. While there's nothing fey or precious about Meiburg's vocals, his pure voice - frequently compared to Mark Hollis of Talk Talk (I agree) and Antony Hegarty (not so much) - turns some people off. Which is a shame, but what can you do.
Just write great songs, I guess, and hope that people get something out of them. And Animal Joy is stuffed with great songs and incredible lyrics. I've been trying to decide on a favorite song for weeks, and just can't choose among You as You Were, Insolence, Open Your Houses (Basilisk) and Believing Makes It Easy. However, the rest of the album is almost as appealing. To me there aren't any filler tracks or real weaknesses.
Reading other reviews, the most controversial track is probably Immaculate, which sounds like nothing so much as Fables-era REM. It is very different from the rest of the album and not nearly as hard-edged as previous raveups like Red Sea Black Sea, Century Eyes, and Corridors, but it's a catchy song with some great lyrics. I like it and I bet you will too.
Also unlike earlier albums, it's a great album to work out or run to.
on February 22, 2012
I am new to Shearwater having discovered this album on mog. For the first few moments, I did not like the singer's voice. Since then I've become more and more enchanted with this album. After a few spins I came to amazon to purchase it.
The rich, dark yet melodic sound is almost tailor-made for my music tastes. This band's talent, skill, wit, and heart are readily apparent.
Jonathan Meiburg plays quite a few instuments on Shearwater's "Animal Joy," perhaps spendin a bit too much time trying his hand at so many varied ones, leaving drummer Thor Harris and bassist Kimberly Burke the job of putting some fire into some of the tracks.
Meiburg's vocals and penchant for mixing in odd effects and unexpected sounds works well for headphone listening, perhaps not quite as well for those times when one wants to twist the volume knob a bit more to the right.
The songs and lyrics are interesting, if not a bit artsy for artsy sake at times, but this crisply recorded set of songs offers enough tweaks and twists to keep it from languishing with those Decemberists' CDs I just cannot bring myself to break out.
All in all, "Animal Joy" proves solid throughout and has some transcendent moments. For me, this recording falls short of 5 stars, just on the cusp of 4 really. The CD packaging is my favorite so far in 2012, though.
on July 13, 2012
... called out from the mouth of oblivion
Cast away like dogs from the shelter
I shed the dulling armor plates
That once collected radiance
And surging at the blood's perimeter
The half-remembered wild interior
Of an animal life
Listening to Animal Joy is so neatly summed up by the poetry on display in the first track that it's almost pointless to write a review. That won't help someone who hasn't absorbed the album yet, so I'll elaborate just a bit.
Once you learn Jonathan Meiburg's bizarre, melodic tones - an easily acquired taste, like good scotch - a realisation will set in: This album is art. It will fill your heart and, as you tease apart the stories being told, it will absorb your mind. It's the story of pain, learning, and the expansive thrill of living. Be open to understanding what you are experiencing - it may take some time to soak it up, but you'll be duly rewarded.
I'm not talking about a wade in the shallows
I'm not living there anymore
You could spend your life fighting the river
Or you could look me right in the eyes - but you have to decide
on February 25, 2012
I first heard Shearwater on an NPR story on the South by Southwest Festival. The first song I heard on that report about 5 years ago was Hail Mary from Palo Santo. Their sound absolutely gripped me. I immediately had to buy the album and wasn't disappointed. I've since bought every one of their albums or live downloads I can get my hands on. I reserve listenting to any of their albums for periods when I can play their album straight thru because it is gripping and meant to be heard that way.
I have only listened to Animal Joy 3 times so far on Mog, but am expecting the CD for my birthday soon. As other reviewers have stated (spot on), this album may be their most accessible. But this doesn't mean its a step down for the masses or for those who have already found and enjoy this band. It's still, and even more so, a gorgeous soundscape of layered instrumentaiton and voice. So well recorded and produced with great dynamic range and clarity. Each songs pretty much stands on its own, but again I have to listen to this album all the way thru. On a good sound system or good headphones you can get totally lost and immersed in this album. If Aracade Fire, AA Bondy, Bon Iver, Band of Horses or the Fleet Foxes can break thru with their music, this band absolutely should. Their music is every bit as good and better IMO than most of these (which I also like) and somehow even more satisfying. It doesn't lose its grip for me like Band of Horses or Fleet Foxes has because Shearwater's instrumentation, dynamic range and soundscape is much more complex, diverse and interesting. The genius talent and craftsmanship behind this music is so compelling and this album feels like their (Jonathan Meiburg's) breakthrough.
I've never seen Shearwater yet, but am looking to. Maybe Monday night in Baltimore.
on February 22, 2012
It is a bit difficult to put into words exactly what Shearwater have accomplished on their latest studio album, Animal Joy. The quickest and most concise way to sum it up is to say that this is one thunderous piece of vibrant and exhilirating rock music. That alone should be enough for any music fan.
Animal Joy is both simple and complex. The songs on display here are more accessible and immediate than 2010's The Golden Archipelago, yet they stay true to the band's distinct sound. The mix of thunderous drums, piano and guitars coupled with lead singer Jonathon Meiburg's powerful vocals work together to create music that is at once familiar and strikingly unique. Each song grabs hold of you with an undeniable sense of purpose and doesn't let go until the album comes to an end. Meiburg's lyrics are incredibly dense and layered revealing new facets with each listen which is a rarity these days.
Needless to say, Animal Joy is an artistic homerun and possibly the groups best work to date. Newcomers as well as returning fans should find much to love with this album. Great music has a way of doing that.
on June 12, 2014
I'm a lyrics person, especially songs that tell a story, or in this case hint at a story. Animal life and the earlier rooks album, sets a mood, illustrates a moment in time, and lets the listeners imagination devise the rest of the story.
on September 13, 2013
I am 60 years old. I am one of those rare people that listen to every sound every note on an album. So few hold my attention. I almost never write a review. This album is worth my time. This group of artists are new to me. But not for long. Perfection? This album can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Not for you Len.
on February 17, 2012
Another amazing album from Shearwater. They're all top notch, but this may be the best one yet. Gorgeous textures, haunting vocals, more harmony on than on previous recordings. Some tunes remind me a bit of Richard Thompson (a plus), though Jonathan Meiburg is clearly the better vocalist. Get it. You won't be disappointed.