Highlights: Animal Life, Breaking The Yearlings, You As You Were
I guess that at this stage one can no longer feel induced to mention Okkervil River in a Shearwater review. Granted, the leader and co-founder Jonathan Meiburg is there and all over this thing, but otherwise the band is now an independent indie-rock outfit whose fan-base stretches beyond Okkervil followers.
As expected, Shearwater don’t do anything new (or wrong) here. Animal Joy is your superior indie-folk, inspired but also calculated. Which you will not at all mind on the album’s excellent opener, “Animal Life”, its gorgeous melody and lovely buildup clearly pointing to what could well be the perfect follow-up to 2008’s Rook. Meaning exactly the same thing – but with guts. The next few tracks are almost as good (which is: better than I Am Very Far), but the beautiful boredom that sets in with track 5, “Insolence”, can hardly be salvaged by Meiburg’s heartfelt voice and immaculate production. Side two is more of the same. Thoughtfully smooth, rough, then smooth again, with the exquisite anthemic drama of “Run The Banner Down” being the standout.
However, for all the criticism Animal Joy might be my favourite Shearwater album. I’ve already mentioned this numerous times, but whenever I listen to an Okkervil River record, I always feel there’s still lots of room for improvements. Songs could be sharper or at the very least catchier. Interestingly, in terms of songwriting, production and arrangements Animal Joy seems like the best thing Shearwater could do. Which is decent, beautiful, even impressive in its own way, but in the large scheme of things – not much.
So the bottom line doesn’t change: Meiburg is not a great songwriter. However, that’s not to say he can’t come up with a great song. Sign of times, I guess.