Shearwater: The Great Awakening (Polyborus/bandcamp)

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Shearwater: The Great Awakening (Polyborus/bandcamp)

For more than a decade we have dipped into the beguiling and extraordinary – if sometimes bewildering and even infuriating – catalogue of Shearwater, the Austin band lead by Jonathan Meiburg (also of Okkervil River).

Although one we missed a few years ago – which is a pointer to their Anglo-framed drama – was their cover of Bowie's Lodger album.

You can certainly hear some echoes of it here on songs like the impressive Empty Orchestra.

As we've noted previously, Meiburg is an interesting character: a serious ornithologist who has taken himself off to remote island and enjoyed the isolation. He's also exceptionally productive but Covid and the like curtailed a lot of his parallel activities (although it seems he finished his novel).

Despite the downbeat tone of the openers here – fragile ballads over low piano and synths – the album title and the subtle movement towards upbeat material after the first third suggests an optimism despite these problematic times.

As we have also noted, Meiburg has a powerful voice to carry the drama which stands as the counterpoint to his more quivering fragility, which might put some in mind of Shawn Phillips, Blue Nile and Talk Talk.

That latter reference is as valid as dramatic-Bowie in these arrangements which are subtle, often spare but with deft touches of electric guitar, strings (as with the Weather Station's Ignorance we point you to the arranging style of Daniel Hart) and include ambient noise of wind and rain.

It adds up to an album which is often more approachable than its predecessors but whose meaning remains tantalisingly out of reach, as always.

If Shearwater are new to you – and were around for a decade before Elsewhere belatedly came to them 12 years ago – this one seems an excellent place to start (although, as always, we'd love to have lyrics readily available).

So what can we say? It is beguiling, extraordinary, sometimes bewildering but not quite as infuriating as what we've heard so far.

It certainly keeps coming back to the “play me again” list.

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You can hear and buy this album at bandcamp here.



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