On Tuesday, my computer crashed. I’m sure many of you have experienced this at some point, but it was a jarring realization. Worse was knowing that I had not backed up much of my data. Photos, documents and over a thousand songs from various local Austin bands were trapped in this hard drive that I couldn’t access. I still can’t. It’s currently being operated on to see how much can be saved. So kids, back up your data! It’s a hard lesson to learn the hard way. All of that is to say, though, that in writing up a band for today, I needed to pick someone who was on Spotify. With apologies to my Facebook friends who get notified with every Spotify song I select, I thought this was as good a time as any to finally get around to reviewing the new Shearwater CD, Animal Joy.
I knew very little about Shearwater before moving to Austin. Apparently, this is their eighth studio disc after over a decade together, and is essentially the vehicle for the quiet brilliance of Jonathan Meiburg. To me, Meiburg’s vocals recall the work of a group like Hidden Cameras or Wild Beasts – distinctive and emotive, and perhaps a bit theatrical. You can tell you’re listening to Shearwater as soon as he opens his mouth. And yet it’s more than just that. Shearwater focus on space and sonic textures. Their sound is mellow and mid-tempo, but also epic and endless. A track like “Pushing the River” meanders from a frantic acoustic riff into a whirlwind of distortion and interlocking rhythms. It never rocks out wholeheartedly, but it engages the listener in mind and body, and is thus a microcosm of the album as a whole.
Frankly, I think that Shearwater are at their best on Animal Joy when at their lightest. Opening track “Animal Joy” and “You as You Were” are both buoyed by bouncing rhythms and gorgeous melodies that just satisfy the soul. Lead single “Breaking the Yearlings” gets darker and ups the intensity level. It’s a great song, but I think lacks the openness of the best of Shearwater’s work. Though the strength of the first four tracks is alluring, the rest of the album has fantastic moments as well: the drum timbre on “Insolence,” the hushed chorus on “Open Your Houses,” the arpeggiated flourishes on closer “Star of the Age.” (Shout out to producer Danny Reisch for his fantastic work on bringing out all these elements!) It’s an album that rewards multiple listens, and at its best is moving both emotionally and physically. If you haven’t yet given them a chance, it’s well worth it. Tonight, they’re playing in Chicago and remain on tour until at least the end of July, but you can buy Animal Joy just about anywhere.