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Shearwater - The Snow Leopard EP

  by Chris O'Toole

published: 11 / 12 / 2008

Shearwater - The Snow Leopard EP
Label: Matador Records
Format: CDS


Mesmerising compilation of highights from this year's 'Rook' album, B-sides and live tracks on new EP from highly acclaimed baroque pop outfit, Shearwater

Quiet shimmering stars of the American indie underground, Shearwater here release a companion EP to their short winter European tour – collecting highlights from this year's 'Rook' album, accompanied by a number of b-sides and live tracks. While not as cohesive as the aforementioned album, the piece still contains enough pointers to illustrate the continued development of this intriguing ensemble. Originally initiated by Okkervil River members Will Sheff and Jonathan Meiburg, the group has grown into a viable entity in its own right over the past seven years. Plotting a course over five albums Shearwater have developed a brand of melodramatic, baroque pop – incorporating elements of piano, guitar and percussion, but largely based around the soaring voice of Meiburg. Having left Okkervil River to concentrate on the Shearwater, Meiburg has taken the group to the forefront of the contemporary singer-songwriter scene also encompassing Will Oldham and Bill Callahan. While melodrama and hyperbole are the currency most often cashed by Meiburg, his deep and effecting presentation allows Shearwater to sound at times as though wisdom were theirs alone. On opener 'The Snow Leopard' a gentle piano paves the way for the singer's towering introduction, allowing Meiburg to explore his favourite themes of ornithology. As a student of the subject, Shearwater's lyrics are littered with avian references, colouring the tone of each piece with symbolic majesty as the music ebbs and flows. 'So Bad' (originally by Baby Dee) slips briefly into completive melancholy, but never wallows. In the hands of others lines such as "Jesus got my Mom in there, and beat her up so bad" would sound puerile and conceited, but here they are given a ring of sage wisdom. Each slayable is as tightly controlled as the delicate piano line, creating a stately, majestic aura. The banjo on following 'North Col' lifts the mood again, reminiscent of Nick Drake in a more playful mood. The final four selections are all live radio and performance pieces – incorporating standard 'Henry Lee' (also covered by Nick Cave and Peggy Seeger), 'Rooks', 'I was a Cloud' (book from Rook) and a reprise of 'South Col/The Snow Leopard'. What these interpretations illustrate above all else is the poise and control the band is able to bring to their performance. Even live the group is able to employ vibraphone, glockenspiel, harp, and banjo with aplomb – creating the eeriest of atmospheres with the minimum of sound. This is a haunting and at times mesmerising collection. While the album 'Rook' clocked in at just half an hour, it was a cohesive and complete piece of work. This EP feels a little thrown together and opportunistic. It is likely to keep fans happy until the next release, but there are more rewarding points of entry for those not already familiar with the group.

Track Listing:-
1 The Snow Leopard
2 So Bad
3 North Col
4 Henry Lee (Live From KUT)
5 Rooks (Live From Radio K)
6 I Was A Cloud (Live From Radio K)
7 South Col / The Snow Leopard (Live From Florence Gould Hall, NYC)

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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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