Andy Royston reckons that the album of 2016 has already been released.
“Shearwater strikes a proper balance between anxiety and artistry on this new record, a tenuous equilibrium that the world desperately needs to find on its own at the moment.” – Erik Thompson: The Line of Best Fit.
Keeping up with new music used to be easy.
There was a time when radio DJs played what they wanted to play instead of by-the-book programs from head office. It was possible until recently to hear good new music before you read about it, and you could show appreciation by actually purchasing the music with real money. Hipster publications such as Pitchfork Media and NME were a help, but into the streaming age it became increasingly difficult for an old git like me to keep abreast of the best new music.
Today it’s all about Last.fm’s ‘similar artists’ algorithm and Spotify’s playlists and it is perfectly possible to hear an amazing new song without knowing who wrote, produced and recorded it. This can be a good and a bad thing. Music feels like a constant stream, out of context and disconnected from the musicians who record it.
I got into Jonathan Meiberg’s Shearwater back in the last days of purchasing music – as opposed to subscribing to a streaming service – at the turn of the decade. Alongside Sufjan Stevens, Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, Shearwater appeared to be the great hope for songwriting, and their album Rook was a highpoint of the oughts.
The songs I played the most were the most melancholy and minimal, and this was the music that stayed in the mind. In the intervening years Meiberg’s band had signed with legendary Seattle label SubPop but their subsequent releases passed me by. More fool me.
Jet Plane and Oxbow
I’d lost touch with Meiburg’s band by the time that Jet Plane and Oxbow showed up on the NPR First Listen player prior to its release on January 22. Within a minute of the first track I understood just how far the band had travelled since Rook. This new album was a large scale, immaculately melodramatic work which harked back to the early days of eighties rock.
All the best influencers are here. ‘New Gold Dream’ era Simple Minds, Talk Talk, Tears for Fears, Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno-era U2, and – best of all – the motorik beats of krautrock. This is a far cry from the eighties revivalist synth-pop that’s currently in vogue. This is art rock at its best, songcraft front and foremost.
The vocals of Jonathan Meiburg have always been commanding, and here his voice just soars. His range is impressive, and his Richard Thompson style phrasing makes one sit up and take notice.
Meiburg’s record is dressed in anthemic hooks and riffs that seduces you into music that is deceptively complex. He’s always been one of rock’s naturalists (look how many of his nine recordings have an avian theme in their packaging) and his lyrics seem to yearn for an escape to an uncomplicated wilderness. Here there’s a feeling that he’s at the top of his game and ready to add some protest songs to the repertoire.
This recording is a vibrant and majestic piece of work – the best new wave rock album for decades and already a contender for album of the year.
“You know, music used to be something that either happened in front of you, or it didn’t happen. I think music just sort of used to be part of—it wasn’t regarded as such a separate thing from the rest of life. It was something people did, and the thing was, you had to make it in order to have it, for the most part. It didn’t used to be regarded as something quite so special, or something special people do, you know what I mean? Although there were all these people who were renowned for being particularly good at it. But I think that recorded music has tipped that, and in a way, took music away from everyone, even as it gave us this ability to document it.” Jonathan Meiberg, Interview AVClub.com
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