The Upshot: Shearwater’s new record is a pure joy to listen to as it tackles some incredibly depressing topics.
BY JONATHAN LEVITT
Being from El Paso Texas and having travelled to Austin for the first time earlier this year, I got a sense of the town beyond the Franklin BBQ lines and the toque wearing, magic sticks wielding component of the city. I found it to be a pretty chilled out town compared with Houston and its truck nuts/testicles hanging contingent. Stuck in LBJ country the town is a wonderful incongruous mix of 10-gallon hat wearing lawyers and hacky-sackers, mixed with a healthy left leaning population is I’m certain like a black eye in the heart of conservative Texas. The motto is keep Austin weird and suffice to say while not the “weird” I’ve known in Beijing, for Texas I guess the nickname fits. So as this latest Shearwater slab of wax crossed my desk I was more than a little curious about what sort of music Austin is producing these days and the result was nothing short of astonishing.
As the initial electronic flourishes of the track “Prime” emerge from the speaker, the rotation of the song ushers in an incredibly dense and serious track that primes the listener for an album that is etched with moments of questioning and soul searching through the debris of our lives and the tormented world around us.
“A Long Time Away” is one of the finest songs on the record, it is a perfect slice of pop, that is steeped in a brooding melancholy, replete with a chorus that will have you singing along atop its thunderous beat. Having never heard Shearwater before, this track came as a revelation to me, and carries with it a narrative force that will have the listener putting it on repeat as I did letting the track reveal layer after glorious layer.
On the track “Pale Kings” Jonathan Meiburg sounds as if he’s channeling Richard Thompson in terms of phrasing and storytelling. It’s another moment that is filled with a richness that recalls singers of yesteryear who could really write songs and deliver them with a believability that is so rarely evident in music these days.
“Radio Silence” is another high water mark in an album filled with them. The song builds and builds generating a high octane energy that is beautifully offset by some amazing production. At moments we hear the bass or the drums come into focus, and then there’s a slight quiver in the background with some off kilter electronic sound that lends just the right amount of weird, before the chorus will have you back singing along with your fist in the air.
Shearwater’s new record is a pure joy to listen to as it tackles some incredibly depressing topics. The clarity of production only enhances the record’s power. The sequencing and the lyrics ring out with a biting clarity.
There is a palpable deepness to the music as it cascades over you. As the album progresses you can sense the complexity of the instrumentation and just how well crafted each song is.
Jet Plane and Oxbow is an amazing journey that moved me in ways I haven’t felt for many years. The bold artistic statement that is this record will have people talking about it for years to come.
DOWNLOAD: Prime, A Long Time Away, Pale Kings, Radio Silence