It’s been suggested—by fans, detractors, even by the band’s founder—that Shearwater and whatever we call underground/indie/whatever-rock in this part of the century are not an obvious fit. And that’s true. So much of what we hear these days (the lousy stuff, anyway) is willfully insular; Jonathan Meiburg’s songs, by contrast, have constantly tackled bigger questions and been propelled by massive musical ambitions.
We’re in an era in which minimalism and lower-than-low-tech have come in vogue. By contrast, Shearwater’s recordings—the epic “Island Arc” trilogy of Palo Santo, Rook and The Golden Archipelago in particular—have been expansive (some might say bombastic) in a fashion like none of their contemporaries. Meiburg—presumably unfamiliar with the adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”—has opted to ditch an approach that paid huge artistic dividends over his last three Matador albums for a record that seems shockingly direct, immediate and intensely personal. He’s no stranger to lush, crafted recordings, but this one sounds like no prior Shearwater incarnation. And please, don’t mistake that for a suggestion this is anyone’s notion of a traditional, singer-songwriter album. “Immaculate” and “Breaking the Yearlings” are inventive and confident in a manner that would humble most new artists, let alone Shearwater’s few veteran peers. “Insolence” is (take your pick) an unsparing bit of self-reflection or an evisceration of someone else; either way, the song covers a staggering amount of sonic territory in the space of six minutes plus. No disrespect whatsoever is intended to Meiburg’s sometimes-Austin neighbors Spoon when I call “Believing Makes It Easy” a song that would rank amongst that band’s finest had they come up with it instead.
Animal Joy was produced and recorded by Danny Reisch in Austin, Texas, and mixed by Peter Katis (The National, Interpol, Jonsi, Frightened Rabbit) in Bridgeport, Connecticut; sessions took place through most of 2011. The album was mastered by Greg Calbi in NYC. Principal players were Jonathan Meiburg (vocals, guitar, and piano), Kimberly Burke (upright and electric bass) and Thor Harris (drums)—all members of Shearwater since 1999—along with guest performers Andy Stack (of Wye Oak) on guitar, keyboard, and saxophone, Scott Brackett on keyboards, Cully Symington on additional drums, Sam Lipman on clarinet, and Elaine Barber on harp. No strings or glockenspiels were touched during the making of this album.
Dana Falconberry’s newest release, Though I Didn’t Call It Came, celebrates, explores, and at times laments the vast landscapes in which they are set. Touching on themes of childhood curiosity, mortality, and the aching beauty of solitude, the EP’s songs interweave the human experience with the world surrounding it. She guides her listeners down moonlit paths and sandy shores until they are standing right alongside her under the birches, wide-eyed and wondering at the eagles circling overhead.
A Michigan native, Falconberry has thrived musically in Austin, TX, hailed by the Austin Chronicle as one of the city’s “most promising singer-songwriters” and “most arresting female vocalists.” She has captivated audiences with her powerful live shows and haunting recordings, receiving acclaim far beyond the reaches of her hometown. The past few years have found her touring extensively through the US, Europe, and Japan. In 2011, she starred in the critically-lauded music documentary on the Austin music scene, Echotone, which was awarded a New York Times Critics’ Pick.