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Intersection of Life and Faith

Animal Joy is Indie Rock to the Core

  • Ed Cardinal TheFish.com Contributing Writer
  • 2012 22 Feb
<i>Animal Joy</i> is Indie Rock to the Core

Artist: Shearwater

Title: Animal Joy

Label: Sub Pop

Austin-based indie rock act Shearwater is a spinoff from the acclaimed band Okkervil River and has cranked out a large handful of comparatively quieter albums and EPs over the past decade.

Its latest longingly played long player, Animal Joy, feels like a significant turning point; this is the group's first to be released on the highly regarded Sub Pop label (Nirvana, The Shins), and in addition to all the somnambulant beauty, the guitars and drums dirty things up now and then.

The opening title track bears much in common with Fleet Foxes—poetic lyrics that beg investigation but no certain interpretation, a folksy foundation that suddenly breaks free into an intelligent rock-and-roll pace. "Breaking the Yearlings" continues with the juxtaposed prettiness of nature imagery and warm electric guitar cacophony.

Singer Jonathan Meiburg is always there to make the moment feel aching and haunted, his sepia-tone voice a soft yet strong instrument seemingly influenced by minimalist vocalists like Ian Curtis (Joy Division) and Mark Hollis (Talk Talk) as well as pop stars like Morrissey and a-ha's Morten Harket. The way he pulls lively melodies from the slow churning "Dread Sovereign," elaborately constructed "You as You Were," and the Nick Drake-like "Run the Banner Down" is unexpectedly moving and creatively fresh.

Shearwater is especially surprising on "Immaculate," a jangly post-punk song that seems to carry an almost uncanny resemblance to R.E.M's mid-80s classic "Life and How to Live It." In a similar nod to that alternative heyday, the influence of bands like The Cure (on "Open Your Houses") and The Church (check the guitar sounds on "Pushing the River") is also detectable.

If there's a misstep on Animal Joy, it's the epic-by-design closer, "Star of the Age." After an album's worth of unique musical expression, smart subtleties, and impeccable references, the finale crosses a line toward sounding bloated and dated. But that's a minor qualm.

Indie rock to the core in that just-take-it Radiohead way, Shearwater streams this entire record for free on YouTube and provides an easy link via the group's personal web site. Have a listen, and don't be surprised if Animal Joy brings you joy.

*This review first published 2/22/2012

**Listen to this album on Spotify