Shearwater – Rook

One of the extraordinary aspects about music is the way it can marry themes of life, mortality and everything else under the sun with incredible music — the only aesthetic that would make sense. Jonathan Meiburg has never sounded as poignant as he does on “The Hunter’s Star.” His voice is graceful, refined and calming. Maybe it’s because he is playing the melodic, memorable piano line that is driving the song, maybe it’s the flourishing strings that swell underneath the music, maybe it’s his unexpected falsetto; whatever it is, it fittingly closes Shearwater’s Rook in a beautifully majestic manner.

Recently, it was announced that Meiburg would be permanently leaving Okkervil River to focus all of his attention on Shearwater. While at first this seemed like a perplexing decision, what with Okkervil River freshly riding the success off their astonishing, The Stage Names, one listen to Meiburg’s main band is answer enough. This is no longer just an Okkervil River side-project, with their second inspiring album, Shearwater is a bona fide musical band. And with Rook, they have firmly established themselves as one of indie-rock’s emerging acts.

The music on here is equally affecting and radiant. “Leviathan, Bound” begins with a striking piano line that is supported by Meiburg’s frail and resonating voice. Dashes of glockenspiel, strings and guitar are added before the song grows into a pulsating gem. At the centre of the song’s core is Meiburg’s emotional and rousing voice

Songs like “Century Eyes” and the album’s lead single, “Rooks,” are buoyant, drum-pounding rockers that are filled with catchy hooks. The former features a nervous piano thumping; the latter has a melody to die for. Like the aforementioned closing song, the album has its fair share of ballads as well. The album opens with a soft piano accompanied by Meiburg’s whisper-like vocals—his falsetto is surprising but entirely engrossing. “Lost Boys” features gorgeous strings that are immaculately performed; the song explodes while Meiburg’s voice is soaring and heartfelt.

The magical facet of it all is how seamlessly everything appears. Even the ethereal bustling of “South Col” works because of where it is placed on the album. The album flows in and out focus plenty of times, without ever losing its drive and tenacity. The ballads hit just as hard as the rockers do and the rockers possess the same amount of musicianship that the ballads do—it’s uncanny. In many ways, it’s as if Meiburg took all of the positives from last year’s Okkervil River album and honed them in on Rook.

If you listen very carefully, on “The Snow Leopard,” Meiburg’s voice reaches a yelp that eerily resembles Will Sheff’s. I anticipate his decision to leave Okkervil River won’t hurt either band in the long run because Shearwater is definitely going places. With Rook they have fashioned an album that is melodic, tender, outstanding but above all, captivating. One thing is for sure, this is one of the best albums of the year.