Wednesday, February 15th, 2012
Breaking The Yearlings
Review of Shearwater’s Animal Joy
Shawn BrackbillHow to follow up a career-defining record is hard enough question for most bands fortunate enough to find themselves in the position of having to do so. For Austin’s Shearwater, it’s triply difficult as they released not one but three interlinked albums over a span of four years – the so-called “Island Trilogy” of Palo Santo, Rook and The Golden Archipelago – which transformed them from Okkervil River sidebar into one of America’s finest, if still underappreciated, art-rock bands.
Not that continuing on in the same vein wouldn’t have been a viable option – after all, the marriage of ambitious prog-folk arrangements, nature-centric lyrics and Jonathan Meiburg’s otherworldy vocals had resulted in three superb albums; there’s no reason to think that it couldn’t yield more. But then we wouldn’t have gotten Animal Joy, the band’s just-released seventh album and that would have been an enormous shame.
On one level, Animal Joy isn’t that far removed from its predecessors but on another, it’s a polar opposite. Meiburg’s vocals are as dramatic and bracing as ever and as an ornithologist and scientist, his songwriting will naturally (pun intended) gravitate to certain themes; in that sense, Animal Joy is immediately recognizable as Shearwater. Where it breaks from the band’s catalog is in how it, to put it simply, rocks hard. Each of the preceding albums had its swells of intensity, it’s gloriously jagged moments that grabbed you and shook, but they were balanced by gentle, ethereal moments that settled over the proceedings like a mysterious fog. Animal Joy rarely sits still long enough for that to happen, taking advantage of the leaner arrangements – most everything on the record is the work of the core trio of Meiburg, Kim Burke and Thor Harris – to move quickly and determinedly. It eschews the elegant hollow bones of the trilogy for something more of sinew and blood, and crackles with life.
It’s those with the longest histories with the band who will be most surprised by Animal Joy offers, but also the most rewarded as its raw energy and sense of excitement – even danger – reveals a heretofore unexplored aspect of what Shearwater is. It’d have been understandable if the band had chosen to take some time off or creatively reinvent themselves following a project as massive as “The Island Trilogy”, but coming right back with such an invigorated follow up that may well be one of their very best? That’s better.
77 Square, DCist, PopMatters, Austin 360, and The Other Paper have interviews with Meiburg about the new record and Rolling Stone talks to him about the just-released first video from Animal Life. Shearwater are at Lee’s Palace on February 21 opening for Sharon Van Etten.
Speaking of Sharon Van Etten, the press cycle around Tramp shows no signs of abating. There’s interviews at The Stool Pigeon, Paste, Chicago Tribune, The Daily Tar Heel, and Black Book and NPR is streaming a World Cafe session and Le Blogotheque has a Take-Away Show.
Video: EMA – “Take One Two”
Stream: Eisley / Lights Out
The New York Times is the place to go if you want to hear the whole of the new Sleigh Bells record Reign Of Terror before it’s out February 21. The duo are at The Phoenix on March 26 and also The Air Canada Centre on April 27 and 28 supporting Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Put Your Back N 2 It, the new album from Perfume Genius, is available to stream in whole at Spin ahead of its February 21 release and the official bio has track by track annotations from Mike Hadreas. He plays The Drake Underground on April 8 and offers The Quietus and DIY interviews.
When Joshua Tillman announced he was abdicating his throne as drummer for Fleet Foxes, it was assumed that he was doing so to concentrate on his solo career as J. Tillman. In fact, he was doing so to start a new solo career as Father John Misty and will be releasing his debut album in that guise, Fear Fun, on May 1. He will be taking said record on the road shortly thereafter and be at the Horseshoe on May 14, tickets $11.50 in advance.
The Avett Brothers haven’t formally announced the follow-up to 2009’s I And Love And You, but the fact that they’ve booked two nights at The Music Hall for May 15 and 16 certainly implies something will be out by then. Or maybe they just want to visit.
Video: Lambchop – “Gone Tomorrow”