Monochrome minimalists go Technicolor, with startling results Anyone familiar with 2002’s Everybody Makes Mistakes could be forgiven for thinking they’d stumbled on the wrong band here. If that album was austere?a kind of aural porcelain?then Shearwater’s third is a riot of movement and colour. They remain, in parts, as sombre-still as American Music Club, but now add more than a dash of Spirit Of Eden-Talk Talk and a whole heap of ’70s FM pop. Soft-rock chamber music, if you will. The magnificent “Whipping Boy”, for instance, with echo-sodden vocal over knotty banjo riff, sounds like The Moody Blues doing Doc Boggs. It’s a colossal leap of ambition for this most curious of bands.
Shearwater were formed in Austin, Texas four years ago. Frontman Jonathan Meiburg and cohort Will Robinson Sheff also play in Okkervil River, though Meiburg takes keyboard duties in the latter while Sheff is its lead singer. The same duo in two different roles in two different bands. Here, they’re joined by drummer/vibraphonist Thor Harris and upright-bassist Kim Burke.
Meiburg’s vocal quiver brings a trembling tension to Winged Life that never lets up. There’s a shining intellect at work here, too. So easy is it to lose yourself in opener “A Hush”, uncoiling from hypnotic guitar spiral into glistening epic, that you nearly miss the fact it’s narrated by a dead man, fresh from being pulled skyward “on a thousand wings”.
The protagonist of “(I’ve Got A) Right To Cry”is laid up in hospital, a mess of tubes, tortured by the drone of machines “singing to themselves in a language that no one can read”. There’s a wounding sense of loss, of memories set to fade, throughout. “Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Old Gang Of Mine”articulates the ache of being alone while everyone else settles into familial domesticity. “The World In 1984″hoves into view over gorgeous, spare piano. Like Devendra Banhart or Iron & Wine, Shearwater are capable of emotional resonance through the most brittle of arrangements. Stunning.