I have been hopelessly in love with Shearwater for years. Each successive release has me wondering if they can match the last and each time they surpass it. The Golden Archipelago of two years ago was a fabulous album and seeing them play it live in tiny old St Bonaventures in Bristol and chatting with the chaps afterwards was one of those awesome moments. The Golden Arc found me at a time when the mellifluousness, crafted, almost prog-ness was right in tune with where I was right then, and I still play it often.
Album eight, Animal Joy has similarly connected at the right time. Now more punchy, stripped back and frankly a little more rock, it deals with the tensions and conflicts of letting things go, moving from one phase of life to another. All things that have been pre-occupying me for some time.
Jonathon Meiberg has the sort of voice I crave, combining that haunting falsetto with a deeper, richer timbre. He sings with that open throatedness that you sometimes find in flamenco or eastern European singers, no hint of restraint, a voice from deep within. He also writes the most wonderful lyrics, poetic and carefully wrought. Lyrics don’t get much better or evocative than this, “I held your name inside my mouth through all the days out wandering”
The playing on this album too is harder, sharper adding to the sense of frustration and anger. I was so ready for a greater punch and drive, the pounding and inventive drums of Thor Harris (now there’s a name) and the deliciously distorted guitar held in check in so many tracks, and Meiberg’s wonderful vocals.
First single Breaking the Yearlings (below) gives a clear marker to the change of spirit, Immaculate even more so in its rockiness, whereas the outstanding You as You Were and Insolence balance that edge and the complexity so markedly Shearwater. Closer, Star of the Age has drawn a little flak for a bit too AOR but for me its a swelling climax to a stirring album, non-one could put this band in the middle of the road.
Although there is such a sharp contrast between this more propulsive and urgent record and its beautiful almost spiritual predecessor, this is unmistakably a Shearwater album. It rises and soars, its deeply eloquent, infused with nature, heart-swellingly wonderful.