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Shearwater - Rook

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 7 / 7 / 2008

Shearwater - Rook
Label: Matador Records
Format: CD


Excellent latest album from one-time Okkervil River offshoot Shearwater, which taking a wildly disparate range of influences, have shaped them into something which manages to be both gentle and epic at the same time

Shearwater started life as a spin-off project from Okkervil River (singer and songwriter Will Sheff was a member of both bands until recently). But with the band’s last album, ‘Palo Santo’, Jonathan Meiburg established his band as a respected full time proposition. With ‘Rook’, his finest work to-date, that reputation looks set to be enhanced further still. This is a lovely album, and another fine contribution to what is shaping up to be a very good year for my record collection. ‘Rook’ is a gently ambitious album, with thoughtful lyrics and a diverse array of music influences. Meiburg seems to have modelled his singing style on Joni Mitchell, and his falsetto gives his melodies an extra edge. The title track is one of the album’s simpler melodies, but his singing ensures it doesn’t sound too much like other indie bands. ‘Leviathan, Bound’ is reminiscent of Tim Buckley, as it builds from being a gentle folk song to a point where it soars along with film-soundtrack strings. I feel like I want to call it an epic, but that isn’t really possible for a track that clocks in at less than three minutes. The next track, ‘Home Life’ fits the epic description, perfectly. Here, Shearwater use their fine array of accompanying musicians to their full potential, but nods should also go to the fantastic rhythm section (Thor Harris and Kim Burke), who ensure that the seven minutes of music remain focused, and who elevate some of the best moments and make them truly thrilling. I am reminded of Mercury Rev, who used their album ‘Deserter’s Songs’ to take their background in underground indie and looked back at the late 60's to expand their sound to wonderful effect. Shearwater have done a similar thing, and - much like Mercury Rev - have used an extensive string section to expand their sound, without swamping the band’s own contributions. But I am also reminded of one of my favourite bands, Grandaddy. Just like Jason Lyttle did on 'The Sophtware Slump', they have taken a wildly disparate range of influences and fashioned them around some intelligently composed songs, while still seeming entirely humble and unpretentious. Not an easy thing to have done. I actually heard Shearwater before I heard Okkervil River, (although since seeing them play last year, I have become a very keen Okkervil River fan) but I suspect that I am one of the few, and that most of their fanbase has come to Shearwater because of the Okkervil connection. I suggest now that there is a decent chance that with 'Rook', that relationship will reverse, and many new Shearwater fans will be going the other way.

Track Listing:-
1 On The Death Of The Waters
2 Rooks
3 Leviathan, Bound
4 Home Life
5 Lost Boys
6 Century Eyes
7 I Was A Cloud
8 South Col
9 The Snow Leopard
10 The Hunter's Star
11 The Rainbow

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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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