Shearwater is one of the bands that I really don’t know why I didn’t listen to them all of last year. It’s not like I didn’t hear about them, it’s more that it completely slipped my mind that I had their records. It’s unfortunate because they would have definitely made it into at least the top ten of my year-end album list.
I first heard about them through the glowing review NPR All Songs Producer Robin Hilton gave when they first broke through the scene as a side project of Okkervil River’s Jonathan Meiburg and Will Sheff. Their early stuff was fine, but since it has been a full time project of Meiburg’s (Sheff left the group to go back to Okkervil), it has really blossomed into something special.
Championed first and foremost by Meiburg’s vocals, Shearwater has the ability to wax and wane intensity solely by the amount of air he wants to exhale into the microphone. In songs like On the Death of the Waters, a whispering voice brings the song to a crawl while in Century Eyes a powerful and confident delivery gives the song it’s momentum. Although it is easy to gravitate to the singing and lyrics in each song, it should be noted that it would be nothing with out the beautifully composed instrumentals. Take the two songs mentioned prior; On the Death… would be nothing with out the delicate piano line and periodic harp arpeggios while Century Eyes wouldn’t have near enough energy without the rocking electric guitar and driving percussions (hell, even the soft horn accents give it a little ‘umph’).
One thing that Shearwater is able to do so much better than any of the other indie folk-rock acts out there is that they reach some sort of a triumphant climax with every single song regardless of its magnitude. Case in point, the instrumentally reserved song Leviathan Bound casualty builds with each stanza in the most minimal of increments, unbeknown to the listener, until the song erupts with Meiburg’s chants of “still is racing.” But just when that moment hits, the song begins to taper off into the quasi-a capella ending. Absolutely perfect. And that is how the rest of the album transpires — a musical equivalent of the tide rolling in and out that will have you pressing repeat as soon as the last note dissolves.