Band of the Day

2012.04.10

Shearwater

Atmospheric rock from Austin, Texas with incredible emotional range and intensity
But when you drag me under, when you pull me over the line, that's when you really reach me.
lyrics from Dread Sovereign

Founded in Austin, Texas, Shearwater is an indie rock band that takes its name from a species of seabird. The band’s first album The Dissolving Room was released on Grey Flat Records in 2001. Their sophomore effort, Everybody Makes Mistakes in 2002, was their first album with Misra records, followed by Winged Life in 2004, and Palo Santo in 2006. Shearwater then signed with Matador Records, which re-released Palo Santo with some new material. The group then released Rook in 2008 and The Golden Archipelago in 2010 on Matador, before self-publishing Shearwater Is Enron later in 2010. The group recently released Animal Joy in early 2012 on Sub Pop Records. After several personnel changes, the band's lineup now consists of Jonathan Meiburg (Guitar, Vocals), Kimberly Burke (Bass) Thor Harris (Drums), Jordan Geiger (Synth, Percussion) and Kevin Schneider (Keyboard, Bass, Guitar).

It's always tempting to try to project a sound onto places. Iceland: orchestral and otherworldly, Manchester: dark and dance-y, Brooklyn: big, serious chamber rock, Seattle: grunge. While the Band of the Day editorial staff will probably never be able to resist PR emails with the words “Iceland” and “like Sigur Rós” in the headline, these generalizations are of course hopelessly narrow. Take Austin, Texas' Shearwater, a band that sprung from the members of country-rock favs Okkervil River in the early 2000s. With their huge, dark atmospheric sound they should by all rights hang their hats in New York or maybe London, not America's live music capital, known for its raucous American roots bands.

Shearwater was formed in 1999 by Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff and Jonathan Meiburg. Over the course of the last decade, Meiburg has increasingly gained more creative control, with Sheff eventually leaving the band altogether. Shearwater have a lot more in common with The National or even Interpol than Okkervil River thanks to their dramatic, bombastic sound. Hot on the heels of 2008's and 2010's critically acclaimed albums Rook and the Golden Archipelago, Shearwater released album number seven, February's Animal Joy. Like it's predecessors, the album is consistently big in scope, and skillfully realized. “Animal Joy” sees Meiburg belting over sparsely picked guitar. It begins almost like a traditional ballad from the British Isles, then slowly builds to anthemic proportions packed with insistent drums, dramatic piano and howling electric guitar. “Breaking The Yearlings” continues with the massive scale, kicking off with a dirty lead guitar intro and building steadily like a storm gathering and crackling with energy. Elsewhere, Shearwater shows a knack for combing pretty with atmospheric (and big, of course). “You As You Were,” is based on swirling piano that pounds steadily throughout the song, not unlike LCD Soundsystem's classic “All My Friends.” Meiburg's vocals steal the spotlight, however, rising and falling, throwing off sparks with every swerve.

Animal Joy is big, beautiful, and emotionally intense, but never feels overly heavy or draining.