Austin's Shearwater return with the follow-up to "Palo Santo". "Rook" meditates on man's intersection with the natural world; the world after human beings are gone. A dark fairy tale encased in a cycle of songs. Jonathan Meiburg's bold, soaring voice still anchors the songs, which broaden his pastoral prog-folk chaotic celestial mindfuckery into new realms. Beyond the continuing touchstones of late Talk Talk, Nico, and John Cale, there are now allusions to Van Morrison and hints of Joni Mitchell. All set in a newly lush sonic gorgeousness of harp, strings, and woodwinds atop the magnificent rhythm section.
On their breakthrough release Rook
, Shearwater provides each number with more dimensions than most bands demonstrate on entire albums. The Austin quartet's follow-up to 2006’s Nico-inspired Palo Santo
springs to life with "On the Death of the Waters," which unfolds like a sleepy ballad, swells into an orchestral maelstrom, and contracts in a cluster of minor-key piano chords. Like the best opening tracks, it commands attention, but "The Snow Leopard," where they combine the grandeur of Sigur Rós with the flamenco-inflected heartbreak of Forever Changes
-era Love, serves as the centerpiece of this ecologically-oriented song cycle. Singer/ornithologist/ex-Okkervil River keyboard player Jonathan Meiburg, who recalls folk troubadour Tim Buckley, and collaborators Kimberly Burke, Howard Draper, and Thor Harris work their magic through evocative imagery, modulated vocals, and fluid instrumentation. The opposite of ragged and spontaneous, the four-piece occupies the more rarefied realm of the theatrical and the cinematic, and it comes as little surprise to find that 2008 also marked their first foray into features (indie romance In Search of a Midnight Kiss
plays out to Shearwater’s mournful melodies). Augmented by 14 guest musicians, Rook
unfurls like a dream, a poem, and the soundtrack to a flickering old film about lost frontiers. --Kathleen C. Fennessy