Shearwater: Animal Joy (Sub Pop) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, October 19th, 2020  


Animal Joy

Sub Pop

Feb 16, 2012 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Shearwater’s three-album cycle that started with 2006’s Palo Santo and closed with 2010’s The Golden Archipelago—dubbed by the band as “The Island Arc”—explored a single musical and emotional commonwealth, driven by lush, almost progressive instrumentation and frontman Jonathan Meiburg’s affecting vocals. Animal Joy is the first album removed from the catalyzing themes of those records, covering a bit of the same ground while offering several all-new approaches to their songcraft. The soft, elaborately-composed, backwoods ballads that made up much of the last arc can still be found in Animal Joy, but importantly, we’re treated to more of the grandiloquent, harder-hitting rock moments that made 2008’s Rook the best album in the preceding trilogy.

Several songs find the band in a distinctive, grandiose pop form. “Open Your Houses” emphasizes an almost-New Romantic feel in an early Talk Talk vein—Shearwater covered that group for a Rook B-side—with Meiburg’s silvery falsetto uncharacteristically reserved in the chorus. “Insolence” is the longest piece of music on the album; drippy, reverberating guitar chords, heady harp lines and a slowly-marching bass drum form a dense, musical swampland, with Meiburg’s soaring voice elegantly raising the song’s canopy. In contrast, “You As You Were” races along at a breezy pace, pulled along by the singer’s exuberant piano bashing.

Animal Joy is a record that sees the band retreating back to the tool shed and returning with a few new devices. It’s a pronounced departure from a formula that’s worked out well for the past five years, but it’s a move that was necessary to promote growth; we’re listening to a band shedding their heavy coat after a long winter and braving forward into a brighter spring. (

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