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Shearwater - Winged Life

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 25 / 2 / 2005

Shearwater - Winged Life
Label: Fargo Records
Format: CD


Melancholic but eclectic debut album from new side project of Okkervil River's Will Sheff and Jonathan Meiburg

This band takes its album’s title from a verse of William Blake, and its name from a bird that flies close to the surface of the river. Naturally, it sounds like it comes from a rural area, and from a performer who understands the power of words. All the songs paint intriguing pictures and tell stories, but none make the mistake of being self-important, and all are firmly rooted in their musical surroundings. Shearwater is primarily the side project of Okkervil River's Will Sheff and Jonathan Meiburg, who fronts this band. They make a very beautiful sound, with soaring strings accompanying the expressive vocals. Right away, from the opening track, this album demands attention. ‘A Hush’ has a vague sense of being an epic, and as such, will be compared to the likes of Jeff Buckley and Radiohead. But then, ‘My Good Deed’ is a folk song, albeit one that gets more and more accompaniment as the song develops. The song is pitched somewhere between the alt.country of Damien Jurado, the acoustic pop of Elliott Smith and the lyrical songcraft of Belle and Sebastian. Mind you, it doesn’t stay in one territory long enough to get accused of being a re-hash. This is, like the first song, very pretty and very enjoyable. At this stage of the album, it is becoming clear that Shearwater are the sort of band that arrange their songs as they see fit, rather than set themselves within any one stylistic domain. Witness the change from the balladic country lament, ‘The Kind’ to the Teenage fanclub-esque alt pop of ‘A Makeover’ and the out and out pop chorus of ‘(I’ve Got a) Right to Cry’. Fans of Okkervil River will be overjoyed at this album. With its weary and bittersweet tone, and inventive songcraft, Shearwater have the same charms as their parent band. The only potential problems are that it may be too consistently downbeat and unhappy for some listeners. I have no problem with a little melancholy, however, and this is an album that has firmly established itself as a favourite. More than a mere side-project, Shearwater are a good band in their own right.

Track Listing:-
1 A Hush
2 My Good Deed
3 Whipping Boy
4 The Kind
5 A Makeover
6 St. Mary's Walk
7 Wedding Bells are Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine
8 (I've Got A) Right to Cry
9 The World in 1984
10 The Convert
11 Sealed
12 The Set Table

Band Links:-

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Interview (2007)
Shearwater - Interview
After being dropped by their record label, Shearwater have just re-released their 2006 fourth album, 'Palo Santo', on the larger Matador Records with five songs re-recorded and a CD of extra tracks. John Clarkson speaks to front man Jonathan Meiburg about it

live reviews

Scala, London, 3/4/2012
Shearwater - Scala, London, 3/4/2012
Chris O'Toole watches still underappreciated dark folk rockers Shearwater play a superb set in their biggest gig to date yet at the Scala in London
St Giles Church, London, 22/11/2008
Bush Hall, London, 17/9/2008

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