Jonathan Meiburg and Will Sheff formed the basis of both Okkervil River and Shearwater and used to reserve the livelier material for the first band and the more quiet work for the second. Nowadays Will Sheff focuses entirely on Okkervil River, while Jonathan Meiburg is pulling all the strings at Shearwater. Last year Okkervil River released their most succesfull album to date, tittled I am very Far(#32 US billboard) and this year it’s Shearwater’s turn. The last couple of years the band made some beautiful albums, on which the sound slowly transformed from extremely fragile to rich and immersive. The Golden Archipelago (2010) which formed a true trilogy alongsid Palo Santo (2006) and Rook (2008), was even labeled as progrock by some critics. I wouldn’t go that far myself, but the progression the band made in comparison to their early records is undeniable.
On Animal Joy, the band from Austin, Texas, takes yet another musical turn. Compared with the rich sound of its predecessor Joy Animal sounds pretty simple and direct. Many songs are built around, what in Shearwater terms can be considered, a pretty raw guitar riff, that is only joined by bass and drums, the occasional piano or organ and of course the thousands of trademark falsetto overdubs of Jonathan Meiburg’s voice. This does not mean that the bombast that the band gradually gave room to on the previous records has now completely disappeared. Opener Animal Life, for instance, starts simple, but finally gets the allure of you average Arcade Fire-track. The same kind of build up is repeated several times on the album, in particular in the longer tracks, but it also contains a number of less evolutionary rocksongs.
Of course, Jonathan Meiburg somewhat atypical high pitch voice is still what initially grabs the listeners attention, like it did on previous albums. It’s a voice that might take you some time to get used to. Once you’ve passed that point, perhaps, like me, you start to appreciate the dynamism and accuracy of the rhythm section on Animal Joy. In particular, the drumming of Thor Harris plays a determining role on most tracks on the album.
In the past, the music of Shearwater has not always been very accessible, but Animal Joy can be enjoyed instantly This doesn’t mean that there is not a lot more can be discovered by listening closely and repeatedly. As I said certain songs remind me of the music of The Arcade Fire, but I also hear some of the music by Peter Gabriel and King Crimson made in the early 80′s, though Animal Joy has no 80s sound itself. All in all, with Animal Joy Shearwater add another beautiful record to their high quality discography and if any album should be able to earn the band some attention outside their modest circle of fans, than surely this must be it.
This review was posted in Dutch on Krenten uit de Pop.