Jonathan Meiburg and Will Sheff, who began their collaboration as members of the critically lauded Okkervil River, founded Shearwater in 1999 as an outlet for quieter songs on which the two were working. Shearwater's debut, 'The Dissolving Room', introduced Meiburg's now ex-wife Kim Burke on upright bass and shortly after, drummer and vibraphonist Thor Harris joined the band. Meiburg has since left Okkervil to focus on Shearwater full time. Five albums later, 'Rook' is the follow up to the critically acclaimed 'Palo Alto'. As much as there is really nothing new here, the album is still very good.
I was surprised at how much emotion and soul the album pack in it's short run time (35 minutes). The press release for Rook speaks of "themes within meditate of man's intersection with the natural world: the hunter and the prey; the extinction of the species; the world after human beings are gone". It may sound pretentious but Meiberg, who is also an Ornithologist (say what?), does a good job of not sounding too full of himself while still crafting some haunting and beautiful music. Sounding like a cross between Van Morrison and Talk Talk, Meiburg flows skillfully through 10 songs filled with complex arrangements of pianos, harps, strings, woodwinds and crisp percussion. Highlights of the album are tracks like ' Leviathan, Bound', 'Home Life', 'I Was A Cloud'. With 'The Snow Leopard', a song which almost sounds like a Radiohead b-side (although Meiburg's voice does go a bit lower than Thom's), Meiburg's voice is the main attraction and shows his versatile range.
My only complaint is that each song tries to be a mini-epic and it doesn't always succeed. Overall though, this is a great album and better than a lot of things out right now. Fans of Okkervil River may find 'Rook' to be a bit confusing but, like a lot of indie folk music, after repeat plays it sure does grow on you. I am sure this will undoubtedly find its way onto some critics' "best of" lists this year and for once, the hype might really be justified.
7 out of 10