Shearwater – Animal Joy

written by: February 24, 2012
Release Date: Feb. 14, 2012


Coming off an ambitious three album concept cycle, Shearwater is taking their latest release as an opportunity to reorient themselves. Advance press indicated that the high-concept junkies would be going for a more straightfoward rock album, but that’s only relatively true. The music remains more stripped down than not (this is Shearwater we’re talking about), but the record still comes off as a layered piece with no shortage of ideas to communicate.

Animal Joy is a completely and unfailingly intimate record, and quite simply one of the most earnest things you’re likely to hear all year. When “You As You Were” starts with delicate piano, and then pulls back to let frontman Jonathan Meiburg’s voice take center stage, the music parks at some kind of bizzare three way intersection between lo-fi, modern folk, and early-’80s power ballads.

Meiburg may well have the softest-edged voice in indie rock: a wispy falsetto capable of drawing surprising power from some unseen well, even when treading familiar thematic ground such as lost love. Even when Meiburg and his band reach for an obvious pull at the heartstrings, they come across as truly, genuinely moving where they should be corny. Some of the credit belongs to some very strong lyrical construction, but not all: somehow the band has perfected a knack of chord changes and musical shifts that cut right to the heart.

“Insolence” is another standout, something that gives us a taste of that hard rock we were promised. When Shearwater go hard on this album, they’re the marathon-runners of head-nodding hard rock: they hunker down, find a nitche where their drummer can give them a rock-stable rhythm, and just sort of work that nitche for all it’s worth. You want to stomp your foot right along with them. They’ve chosen their name well, because the whole experience of listening to “Insolence” or it’s followup track “Immaculate” is undeniably primal.

“Star of the Age” the closing track, works a “retro” feel harder than any other track of the album. It really sounds like it belongs over a training montage in some lost movie featuring the former governor of California, but damn it, it works. It sweeps you along with it, because it’s not humanly possible to resist the amount of genuine feeling that seems to have been packed into it. Kudos to Shearwater for creating a musical space where ideas that shouldn’t be able to survive in the world of modern music seem perfectly at home.

Shearwater – Animal Joy tracklist:

  1. “Animal Life”
  2. “Breaking the Yearlings”
  3. “Dread Sovereign”
  4. “You As You Were”
  5. “Insolence”
  6. “Immaculate”
  7. “Open Your Houses”
  8. “Run the Banner Down”
  9. “Pushing the River”
  10. “Believing Makes It Easy”
  11. “Star of the Age”