Written for The Music Fix.
Billed, as if setting out to raise critical eyebrows, as their “thrilling artistic rebirth”, Shearwater’s Sub Pop debut (their eighth on all labels since emerging sideways out of Okkervil River) breaks from the insular and atmospheric stylings of their most recent efforts. On an album which uses most of the same forces as previous ones, the core features aren’t new – typically melodic songs still centre on Jonathan Meiburg’s powerful tenor – but are used to represent a slight shift of focus towards more direct songs whose sweeping pastoral arrangements build up gradually.
Opener ‘Animal Life’ is a straightforward archetype. Its skeletal guitar opening is fleshed out by a textural widening of strings and measured percussion parts, which take the song through steady steps towards euphoria. Frequently, the arrangements admit of genuine nuance, subtly incorporating unimposing celeste, woodwind and harp motifs around a core of guitars and keyboards.
The immediacy which Meiburg and co. have introduced is likely to catch the ears of a broader audience, particularly those casual listeners left cool by their relatively elusive early work. Whilst their transitional album isn’t all that likely to leave behind a more transcendent joy, these tunes have the potential to be hummed for weeks afterwards.