Tag Archive | "Shearwater"

Shearwater- Jet Plane and Oxbow

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Shearwater- Jet Plane and Oxbow

Posted on 15 January 2016 by Joe

Maybe its middle age, perhaps a sudden hankering for nostalgia, but it’s clear the urge to revisit the 1980s is strong for Okkervil River’s Will Sheff and their former keyboardist Jonathan Meiburg, who now leads environmentalist prog rockers Shearwater.

While the focus of Okkervil River’s 1980s drenched 2013 album Silver Gymnasium was more Breakfast Club with its nostalgic, adolescent themes, Meiburg’s political and conservationist zeal sees him look to more serious inspiration, most notably Talking Heads’ Remain in Light and Scary Monsters, by the sadly departed David Bowie.

shearwater

Over the last decade or so Meiburg’s Shearwater has favoured drama through its songs, often about the tragedies and joy of nature, as was heard on their 2010 album The Golden Archipelago, about the conservation threat posed to the world’s fragile islands.

When they signed to Sub Pop in 2012 and released Animal Joy the same sense of political and environmental drama continued, but this had a more radio friendly sound.

This album is a natural progression on both Animal Joy and The Golden Archipelago. It’s beautifully produced and wonderfully dramatic, thanks to the addition of film composer and percussionist Brian Reitzell, whose cinema credits include Lost in Translation.

It’s also accessible, full of 1980s electronica and synths, which provides a great juxtaposition to Meiburg’s more traditional baritone and the band’s timeless subject matter, about humans’ relationship with the natural world.

There’s also an unease for Meiburg in being an American on this album. Unsurprising really for this environmentalist to be part of a country that is one of the world’s biggest polluters.

This discomfort is best shown on the album’s lead track Quiet Americans, which acts as both an implicit apology for his country’s treatment of the planet and an call to arms to make amends.

But while there’s more electronica on this album than on previous releases the band can still be safely categorised broadly as guitar pop/rock, with the riffs of Back Channels proving another highpoint. Pale Kings too is joyous guitar pop and Only Child sounds like one of Richard Thompson heavily produced 1980s albums.

Is there any filler? Filaments is almost there due to its lack of melody compared to tracks like Quiet Americans. However, its driving bass and vintage synths turn this mundane song into another highlight.

While lacking the melodies that made Rook one of 2008’s best albums, this album as a whole is sonically perhaps their best yet. Given that this is the most cinematic of their releases it is strange that they have yet to create a film soundtrack – which surely must be the next stage in Shearwater’s evolution.

8/10

by Joe Lepper

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Shearwater The Haunt, Brighton (May 3, 2014)

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Shearwater The Haunt, Brighton (May 3, 2014)

Posted on 06 May 2014 by Joe

The first  Saturday of the annual Brighton Festival is one of the busiest nights on this south coast city’s social calender, with a raft of competing events taking place. It would therefore have been understandable if this latest gig on a brief Spring tour by Shearwater, the Sub Pop signed band formed by former Okkervil River man Jonathan Meiburg, was half empty.

But such is the growing reputation of the band as a live act they need not have worried ,as the Haunt was almost full and with a good, attentive crowd too, who were full of appreciative whoops and cries throughout.

Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg

Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg

The band clearly picked up on this enthusiasm and gave them what they wanted, quite literally when it came to the encore as they played Snow Leopard, one of the stand out tracks on their second album Rook,  in response to a shouted request.

As Shearwater gig goers have come to expect there was plenty of environmental based banter from Meiburg, including his recollection of a dream featuring an orang-utan, the time vultures circled over their recording studio as well as tales of his childhood in Baltimore.

With their last album Travelers, a collection of cover versions, coming out last year this Spring tour was not album specific so there was plenty of chance to mine their back catalogue, including another crowd favourite  the title track of Rook.

Travelers tracks still got a good airing, including their rock anthem take on Xiu Xiu’s  I Live The Valley OH and  David Thomas Broughton’s Ambiguity. As is in keeping with Meiburg’s passion for wildlife and conservation issues this tour also includes recordings of birds and waves from the Falkland Islands, a favourite Meiburg destination, as well as  the sounds of sparrows and road builders from North Korea to bring their songs further to life. It’s not every gig you review you get to say that, but then Shearwater is not your average band.

Words by Martin Burns, pictures by Dorian Rogers.

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Shearwater – The Fleece, Bristol (Nov 25, 2012)

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Shearwater – The Fleece, Bristol (Nov 25, 2012)

Posted on 26 November 2012 by Joe

There are bands that tour relentlessly only to implode amidst bitter in-fighting. Then there’s Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg, who in the middle of a world tour takes a month out to holiday in an Albatross colony on the Falkland Islands.

Such a break clearly helps avoid complacency.  As Meiburg and his band come towards the end of a 200 night plus world tour they are far from jaded. They clearly still love playing and are so delighted with the respectable crowd that’s turned out they play a mammoth half an hour encore on top of the intense hour long main set.

Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg

Tracks from their latest album, and first on Sub Pop, Animal Joy took up the bulk of the gig, showing that in both recorded and live form this Texas outfit – that started as an off shoot of Okkervil River –  are among the best indie rock bands around.

Dramatic compositions, powerful lyrics, precision drumming, with the bass and Meiburg’s vocals taking the melody above a wall of noise from guitars and keyboards  provides an enormous sound  at times that could easily fill far larger venues.

Among the highlights from the Animal Joy tracks were the album’s centrepiece Insolence. On this track the tour’s drummer Danny Reisch, a temporary replacement for their usual stick man Thor, proves a real highlight with his military precision on the snare giving the song an even greater sense of drama than on the album.

Another highpoint was Pushing the River in which once again Reisch’s drumming shines, with more than a few nods to Joy Division and New Order’s drummer Steven Morris

After a banter-free first few songs the band really embraced the audience, with Meiberg’s stories of the Falklands and the origins of his songs pouring out.

We discover that the British South Atlantic colony is “like an elaborate reconstruction of here by a theatrical society” and how he found a sperm whale’s giant tooth on the beach. He then donated it to a Falkland’s museum, more due to not getting it through US customs than altruism. This was a nice segue into one of the handful of tracks such as Black Eyes from their 2010 album the Golden Archipelago about the plight and wonder of the world’s islands.

Shearwater

The extended encore gave Meiburg a chance to play solo, just electric guitar and his voice on a couple of tracks with Animal Joy’s Dread Sovereign a highlight of this segment. He was later joined by the band again to belt out some older tracks including Rook, from the band’s 2008 album of the same name.

As with Meiburg’s former band Okkervil River, who played for nearly two hours at Bristol’s Trinity Arts Centre last year, Shearwater know how to give a crowd value for money and a superb, passionate performance. Playing like that for 200 nights, and with a trip to the windswept Falkland Islands in between makes Meiburg one of the most intriguing characters in music and Shearwater one of the most exciting, hard working bands around.

Will Samson (l) and Ollie (r)

Support on the UK leg of their tour comes from Will Samson, joined tonight by keyboardist “Ollie”. Samson was as engaging as Meiburg during his short set regarding the banter but suffered from vocally sounding almost identical to For Emma, For Ever Ago era Bon Iver. Samson even strains his voice in the same way, but sadly did not have the same quality of songs such as Skinny Love to justify such a copycat performance. He even remarked how much discomfort such straining causes; perhaps a sign from his body that he should find his true voice sooner rather than later. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon has been there, done that and already moved on and perhaps it’s time for Samson to do the same.

By Joe Lepper

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Shearwater – Animal Joy

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Shearwater – Animal Joy

Posted on 21 February 2012 by Joe

Shearwater have produced songs of beauty, anger and even at times progressive rock. One thing they have never been up until now is commercially appealing. Animal Joy, their first album on Sub Pop after a move from Matador, changes that.

Animal Joy features largely three to four minute pop songs, rock riffs and pulsating bass intros. It’s still Shearwater, the band formed by former Okkervil River keyboardist and environmentalist Jonathan Meiburg, but with the key difference – a chance of chart success.

It’s a change that not only works well and gives some extra bite to their tracks, but after the prog rock leanings of their last album The Golden Archipelago, a stunningly researched musical treatise for the plight of the world’s islands, it is perhaps a wise career choice.

The subject matter on Animal Joy is still fiercely green, focusing on  familiar territory for Shearwater of the beauty and horror of nature, but this time around pretty much all the tracks  could be  a single, with the exception of the slightly Euro-pop sludge of final track, Star of the Age.

Only one deliberately skewed guitar note after the chorus on the title track, which opens the album, hints that this is the work of a small, alternative rock band from Texas.  Breaking the Yearlings, with its rock bass intro and menacing keyboards is a real statement that Shearwater now feel they are ready for more success. The band also find time for a 12 bar blues single in Immaculate, complete with that most classic of lyrical rock standards, a loner called Johnny. It’s my favourite on the album.

Even the nearly seven-minute long Insolence has the potential for a wide audience, like a mix of Radiohead and Talk Talk’s later albums, in particularly Laughing Stock. Pushing the River has echoes of The National, with its off kilter drum beat. More than anything this track shows just how blessed Shearwater are, not just for having Meiburg’s stunning vocals, but also the considerable drumming talents of Thor Harris.

While Animal Joy’s quality should earn the band more than just praise this time around it may take the wider music buying public a while to cotton onto Shearwater’s blend of indie rock and environmentalism. Many other reviewers have dismissed parts of this album as a transitional phase. I disagree, with Phil Ek taking production duties, the band have already evolved into a potentially powerful force in rock music while still sticking to their alternative and environmental roots.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Album Releases To Watch Out For In 2012

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Album Releases To Watch Out For In 2012

Posted on 14 December 2011 by Joe

Here’s Neon Filler’s five key album releases to look out for during those first few cold months of 2012. Looks like it’s going to be a good year for independent and alternative music releases with some contenders for our end of year best of 2012 list already beginning to emerge.

Guided by Voices –  Let’s Go Eat the Factory

Release date: January 1, 2012 (global outside US). Label: Fire Records

In 2010 the classic Guided By Voices line up of Robert Pollard, Tobin Sprout, Mitch Mitchell, Greg Demos and Kevin Fennell reunited for a series of shows in the US. But this was no mere trip down memory lane. The band has also been working on new material and plan to release two albums in early 2012. The first of these is Let’s Go Eat the Factory, which includes the single The Unsinkable Fats Domino. We’ve been given an exclusive  listen and according to our reviewer it’s a “21 song set of vintage Guided By Voices lo-fi pop brilliance.” Read our full review here.

First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

Release date: January 24, 2012. Label:  Wichita Recordings

This Swedish duo, who are still only young and were made moderately famous on YouTube a couple of years ago for their cover of Fleet Foxes’ Tiger Mountain Peasant Song,  have already released two impressive albums. This, their third album, which has been produced by Mike Mogis from Bright Eyes, is set to  take them to the big time. The title track video has already been released and shows a new depth to their music. What’s more their vocals sound better than ever.

The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know

Release date: February 6, 2012. Label: Fat Cat Records

Forget the Night Ahead, the last album by this powerful, moody Scottish band made our Top Ten Albums of 2009 list. It quite simply blew us away.

We’ve had a listen to their next album. They’ve upped the production quality and clearly listened to a few later Depeche Mode albums but  have lost none of their power. The full track list is: ‘Alphabet’/ ‘Dead City’/ ‘Sick’/ ‘Don’t Move’/ ‘Nil’/ ‘Don’t Look At Me’/ ‘Not Sleeping’/ ‘Another Bed’/ ‘Kill It In The Morning’.

Shearwater – Animal Joy

Release date: February 13, 2012. Label: Sub Pop

Shearwater, the band formed by members of Okkervil River and now a full time project for its singer and chief songwriter Jonathan Meiburg, have moved label to the mighty Sub Pop but look set to lose none of their trademark beauty. It’s all about nature with Shearwater, with their last three albums focusing on environmental splendour and tragedy. Animal Joy was recorded in their native Texas, includes the track Breaking the Yearlings and was produced by Danny Reisch. Their previous two albums have both been listed in our 2008 and 2010 end of year lists. We are already predicting a placing in our 2012 list for Animal Joy from what we’ve heard.

The Magnetic Fields – Love at the Bottom of the Sea

Release Date: March 5 (UK) March 6 (US). Label: Domino (UK), Merge Records (US)

The Magnetic Fields 1999 classic album 69 Love Songs reached the top 10 in our Top 100 Indie and Alternative Music Albums list. Love at the Bottom of the Sea marks a return to Merge, the US label that released 69 Love Songs.

This move bodes well for another stellar release from Stephin Merritt and his band. Contributors include Claudia Gonson, Sam Davol, John Woo, Shirley Simms, Johny Blood, and Daniel Handler. Merritt has promised a mixture of synth and acoustic instruments this time round.

Compiled by Joe Lepper

See Also: Top 10 bands to watch out for in 2012.

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Okkervil River – I Am Very Far

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Okkervil River – I Am Very Far

Posted on 03 May 2011 by Joe

Okkervil River’s last two albums The Stage Names (2007) and  The Stand-Ins (2008) had the odd orchestral flourish, trumpet part and epic moment but at their core they were two albums of guitar based indie rock. With I Am Very Far they have adopted a far more ambitious sound. There’s still an alternative rock band there but on this evidence mainstream success surely is not far away.

As with the Texas band’s previous two albums it too features a range of instruments, but with the band’s frontman Will Sheff and fellow Texan John Congleton on production duties they’ve brought out a cinematic quality to the band’s music.

Another feature is that not one of the 11 tracks is skippable. While the Stage Names and The Stand Ins were good albums, their real strength lay in the pop savvy quality of a few tracks such as ‘Lost Coastlines’ and ‘Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe’. I Am Very Far is an old fashioned album, that demands to be listened to from start to finish rather than to be dipped into for some select songs.

Opener ‘The Valley’ is as good an opening track to an album as you will hear with its pounding drums and a string arrangement that is part ‘Bellbottoms’ by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, part Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

Among other highlights are ‘We Need a Myth’, which has one of the best melodies of the album and the Wilco-esque ‘Lay of the Last Survivor’.

Another is ‘Hanging from a Hit’ with its ragtime pub piano that harks back to classic British late 60s music from the likes of The Hollies or The Kinks. The  influence of this era is perhaps unsurprising given Okkervil River were the backing band on 1960’s psychedelia legend Roky Erickon’s 2010 album True Love Cast Out All Evil.

I am Very Far could just be their best album to date and has the potential to take them from alternative indie rock status to mainstream rock without losing credibility.

It also owes a lot in influence to former band member Jonathan Meiburg and his band Shearwater, which started as a folkish side project that included Sheff but like Okkervil River has learnt over time that big can be better.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Top 20 Albums of 2010

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Top 20 Albums of 2010

Posted on 20 December 2010 by Joe

We usually compile a top ten albums of the year list, but in recognition  of 2010 being one of the best years in recent memory for indie/alternative releases we’ve decided to double the size.

The year started well with ambitious albums by the likes of Field Music, Los Campesinos! and Owen Pallett and got better with stellar releases from the likes of The National, the welcome return of Belle and Sebastian and some surprises from the likes of Janelle Monae. Some familiar names return to our end of year countdown on a list that features some excellent new UK music. Sit back, get your emails to Santa ready and enjoy Neon Filler’s Top 20 Albums of 2010.

1. Field Music Measure

Measure, a double album no less, sees the band move on yet another level. There are aspects of the sweeping, mazy songs on their eponymous debut as well as the jerky, more structured pop of second album Tones of Town, but a whole lot more has been added. Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, even ELO, XTC, The Move and 10cc are thrown into the mix. This album came out at the beginning of the year but its breadth and ambition continues to astound as the year comes to an end.  Read our full review here.

2. The Miserable Rich – Of Flight and Fury

Of Flight and Fury is the second album from Brighton’s The Miserable Rich and it picks up from where their excellent debut left off. Part of Brighton’s Willkommen Collective they are the most compact and focused of the bunch. One of our top ten bands to watch out for in 2011, we are expecting big things from this band. Read our full review here.

3. Darren Hayman & The Secondary Modern – Essex Arms

The album is the second part in a trilogy about Hayman’s native Essex and continues with a warts and all nostalgic look at working class England. Like its predecessor Pram Town (which topped our Top Ten Albums of 2009 list) Essex Arms is wonderfully evocative of a place and time, without descending into sneering or cloying sentiment. Surely Hayman has earned national treasure status by now.  Read our full review here.

Essex Arms

Darren Hayman & The Secondary Modern - Essex Arms

4. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest

Deerhunter have named their fourth album Halcyon Digest for good reason, as once again the US band serves up an unusual and effective mix of music that takes a range of influences from the golden years of rock n roll to the 1990s shoegazers. Halcyon Digest is lush, layered and timeless. Deerhunter’s most focused and accessible album yet. Read our full review here.

Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest

5. Janelle Monae

The debut album from former stage school kid and Outkast collaborator Janelle Monáe could well be the most eclectic album of the year so far. Mixing orchestral pieces, hip hop, soul, pop, psychedelic rock, folk and even a collaboration with Of Montreal into 18 tracks. It is ambitious and mesmerising as it effortless travels between genres. Read our full review here.

6. Belle and Sebastian – Write About Love

It’s been a long wait for such adoring fans, but the band are now firmly back after a four year hiatus touring and with a sparkly new album, Write About Love, a concept album of sorts about, well, love. So where does Write About Love sit in its catalogue?  For us its one of their best yet. Welcome back Belle and Sebastian. Read our full review here.

Belle and Sebastian - Write About Love

7. The Walkmen – Lisbon

With Lisbon US band The Walkmen have delivered a perfect follow up to their last album You and Me, which topped our Top Ten Albums list for 2008. Retaining You and Me’s stripped back, timeless production with nods to the 50s and 60s, Lisbon has plenty more goose bump moments and once again offers a perfect showcase for lead singer Hamilton Leithhauser’s stunning rock vocals and the band’s love of vintage instruments. Read our full review here.

8. Owen Pallett – Heartland

With the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Arcade Fire’s Jeremy Gara involved, Heartland is at times pure Brian Wilson  as it effortlessly takes in aspects of classical music, electronica, pop and indie-cool. Read our full review here.

Owen Pallett

9. Surfer Blood – Astro Coast

As debuts go Astro Coast is already a modern indie classic. Full of  a marvellous mix of riffs, indie rock influences such as  Sonic Youth and Pavement, passionate singing and some neat tricks as well. It is all that is good about the best of modern US indie rock. Read our full review here.

10. The National  – High Violet

How can a band this good, this radio friendly, this professional not be bigger? Why is it that the likes of Muse, Radiohead and Coldplay play in front of multi-zillion seater stadiums and headline major festivals and not The National? After the release of High Violet The National are well on their way to similar success. Read our full review here.

11. Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago.

When the end of the world comes, as pollution lays waste to the Earth, Shearwater’s leader singer Jonathan Meiburg will be on a nuclear  ravaged tropical island somewhere screaming bloody murder in his haunting baritone at the corporations and politicians. This indie/folk/rock album is powerful stuff. Read our full review here.

12. Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt

Swedish folk singer Kristian Matsson, who takes to the stage under the name Tallest Man On Earth, must be bored to tears with being compared with early Bob Dylan, especially when in many respects he is actually better than the great man at the same stage in his career. Read our full review here.

13. Broken Bells – Broken Bells

Opening track and lead single ‘The High Road’ kicks things off beautifully on this debut album from Shins frontman James Mercer and producer Danger Mouse and is a sign of the good things to come. By the time you’ve listened to ‘Vaporise’ and Mercer’s surprisingly good falsetto on ‘The Ghost Inside’ you know that the duo have produced something worthy of an end of year best of list. Read our full review here.

14. Beach House  – Teen Dream

The slicker production and attention to detail  on Teen Dream  compared to previous releases unsurprisingly coincides with a move to the label Sub Pop, which has a strong track record of getting the best out of its eclectic mix of artists ranging from The Fleet Foxes to Postal Service. Read our full review here.

15. Los Campesinos! – Romance is Boring

Los Campesinos! are among the most divisive of bands. A bunch of shouty students, spouting immature teen angst to some, one of the most innovative British bands around for others. Their 2010 release Romance is Boring is a pretty good case for the latter’s cause. Read our full review here.

16. New Pornographers – Together

When we first heard the song ‘Your Hands (Together)’, from the fifth album by The New Pornographers, we were disappointed. So much so that we avoided the album and didn’t review it on this site. But after hearing another track from the album, the brilliant ‘Crash Years’ (one of our songs of the year) we realised we were missing out. Building on the more subtle styles of 2007’s Challengers with a return to the more bombastic power chords of their earlier albums this is classic pop music at its best.

The New Pornographers - Together

17. The Besnard Lakes – The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night

After the first 30 seconds of opening track ‘Like The Ocean Like The Innocent’ we were sceptical. We’ve heard enough meandering drone rock to last a lifetime, but nine minutes later at the end of the track we were converted. This is music with genuine substance and power. Read our full review here.

18. Allo Darlin’

Allo Darlin’s self titled debut is a near perfect slice of British “twee” pop played by associates of Amelia Fletcher and Darren Hayman. Melodic, sweet and sensitive it has possible singles from start to finish. The more jaded listener might find songs like ‘Heartbeat Chili’ a little hard to stomach, but if you keep your mind open there is much to love here. One of the discoveries of 2010, and very much a band to watch in 2011.

Allo Darlin

19. Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse – Dark Night of the Soul

Second appearance for Danger Mouse in our top 20, this time his long awaited collaboration with the late Mark Linkous, aka Sparklehorse. Unreleased for some time due to contractual wrangles it was originally intended to accompany a book of visuals by David Lynch. The book was published, but the album itself was shelved and emerged some months later during 2010. It features contributions from a number of singers and musicians including the Flaming lips, Suzanne Vega, Iggy Pop, can be a difficult listen in places but as you would expect from Linkous and Danger Mouse, stunning in others. Read our full review here.

20. Fang Island  – Fang Island

Imagine if you will Bill and Ted’s band Wyld Stallyons, but better, speeded up and backed by members of Primus, Faith No More and The Descendents. It’s a heady mix of humour, power chords and squealing solos that Fang Island pull off with aplomb. Read our full review here.

To hear more by the bands above (and some other great acts from the year) listen to our best of 2010 Spotify playlist.

See Also – Top Ten Albums of 2008, Top Ten Albums of 2009

Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers

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Blue Water White Death

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Blue Water White Death

Posted on 15 October 2010 by Joe

There’s two odd choices of words in Pitchfork’s recent review of Blue Water White Death, the collaboration album between Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart and Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg.

The first is that the CD is ‘inessential’. The other, and this is the one that has really got to Meiburg, is the word ‘complacent’.

In a recent post on Meiburg’s Facebook page in which he wonders whether Pitchfork has the power to scupper an album’s chances of being heard, he rages: “ But to dismiss it as ‘complacent’ seems well wide of the mark to me. I was there, I tell you. Complacent it was not. Is not.”

We at Neon Filler were among the dozen or so people who responded with small words of comfort to Meiburg that most people with a brain don’t really care what Pitchfork thinks. We also asked him for a copy to hear for ourselves whether it is complacent. Hey, presto, within an hour a representative from Blue Water White Death’s label Graveface Records was in touch and a download was in our hands.

Jonathan Meiburg

So what do we think of it?  In terms of being ‘essential’ we agree with Pitchfork there, seeing as we can’t eat or drink it or use it for shelter, unless of course we buy a few hundred copies. The accusation of ‘complacent’ though is something we are prepared to side with Meiburg on. There is clearly a lot of love and hard work gone into this album, which mixes similar, if more raw, styles of Xiu Xiu and Shearwater.

I’m more familiar with Shearwater than Xiu, Xiu, and my admiration for Shearwater’s last two albums especially means that I am among the Shearwater and Xiu Xiu fans that Pitchfork concede will enjoy this album, warts and all.

Yes, it is rough and ready in places, but still has a passion about it and some wonderfully atmospheric moments. Stewart and Meiburg’s haunting voices help. For me Meiburg could release an album reading out my weekly shopping list and it would still be interesting. There’s more to a shopping list here though. Images of nature that are scattered across Shearwater’s output are in good supply here, as is some sumptuous acoustic guitar and moody piano.

Among the best tracks are ‘Nerd Future’, full of far Eastern rhythms, chimes and beats and of course Meiburg’s beautiful voice. ‘Gall’ is another, a soft piano one, punctuated with the odd quirky noise and electric piano scale, but with a melody that drifts around you. Not all the tracks appealed to me, which is unsurprising considering it is the product of just a week’s work and with, as Meiburg admits, little consideration for commercial appeal. It can also be a downright difficult listen at times. ‘Rendering the Juggalos’ for example has a lovely acoustic guitar riff driving it but is too often littered with distortion.

Blue Water White Death Album Cover

As I listened to it more this week it occurred to me that the Pitchfork reviewer’s lack of enjoyment of the album may be from being city based. Meiburg’s voice in particular is more suited to be listened to out and about I think. He is a keen environmentalist and ornithologist after all.

I’m lucky, I do a lot of my listening walking my dog across the Somerset levels around Glastonbury near my home. As I listened to the album for the first time, with the herons taking flight from the streams, two crows were waging war on a buzzard overhead. Blue Water White Death was a stunning soundtrack to this scene. I’m looking forward to listening to this as the murmuration of hundreds of thousands of starlings that come to the Levels this winter fly over and bounce across the fields.

Meiburg ends his Pitchfork rant saying how he hopes it doesn’t put people off as he wants it “ have a chance to reach the ones whose itch it might scratch.” He adds: “It certainly gives me a peculiar feeling when I listen to it, and I don’t really think it’s like anything else. “‘This album isn’t for everyone’ was about the best I had hoped for in terms of reaction.”

Well, for this rural living, Shearwater admiring, music fan it does just fine.

7/10

by Joe Lepper

See Also: Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago, Top Ten Albums of 2008

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Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago

Posted on 21 September 2010 by Joe

When the end of the world comes, as pollution lays waste to the Earth, Shearwater’s leader singer Jonathan Meiburg will be on a nuclear waste ravaged tropical island somewhere screaming bloody murder in his haunting baritone at the corporations and politicians.

On Shearwater’s latest album The Golden Archipelago we find environmentalist, bird watcher and former Okkervil River member Meiburg in training for such a moment. Billed as the third part in a loose trilogy of albums about nature from the folkish indie-rock outfit, this latest album takes in elements of both previous albums.  The soft pastoral palette of debut Palo Santo and the epic quality of  2008’s Rook are both here.

Meiburg has certainly done his research, visiting a range of islands that have seen their fare share of environmental destruction, conflict and civil rights abuses.

From The Galapagos Islands, which are being devastated by illegal fishing, to the Falklands and Tierra del Fuego, Meiburg’s aim has been to tell the stories of these islands across the album. Meiburg’s grandfather serving in the Second World War in the south pacific adds further resonance to what is a compelling listen.

There’s a lot to get angry about for Meiburg as well. Take opener ‘Meridian’ for example, which features singing from residents of Bikini Atoll, who are now in exile on the island of Kili after atomic testing made their home uninhabitable. This is an atrocity that rarely gets the media attention it deserves.

While musically still quite measured on ‘Meridian’, next track ‘Black Eyes’ is a far more angrier proposition, where Meiburg’s soft baritone turns to a screams as he sings of the ruined South Pacific city of Nan Madol, which has been uninhabited for 500 years.

Among other highlights is ‘Hidden Lakes’, which is reminiscent of Rook’s wintery tracks such as ‘Snow Leopard’ and ‘Hunter’s Star’. ‘Corridors’ is another high point. Although not about one specific island, Meiburg tells Drowned in Sound that it is about how islands can literally and metaphorically be a prison. It’s the centrepiece track on a mesmerising album.

Few other artists spend as much time researching an album and creating such a value for money product, especially for those who buy the CD version, which includes a 50-page booklet about Meiburg’s travels. As good as Rook, if not better, Golden Archipelago shows that Shearwater is truly one of the most interesting bands around at the moment.

9/10

by Joe Lepper

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Top Ten Albums of 2008

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Top Ten Albums of 2008

Posted on 21 September 2010 by Joe

Neon Filler’s round up of the best ten alternative and indie albums of 2008 is dominated by US acts, with the UK’s so-called next big things failing to live up to expectations.

Of those that made our top ten, seven are from the US, one from Canada and just two from the UK. Shamefully poor releases by the likes of Pigeon Detectives, Razorlight and Keane ensured that a Brit pop revival is unlikely in the near future.

Although the most interesting music of the year came from the US, the nation of the free shouldn’t get too above itself. There was no Is This It, no Nevermind, nothing to make a thousand teenage bands drop what there doing in their droves and embrace a new way of playing music.

Those that narrowly missed out include Fleet Foxes, Okkervil River, Amadou and Mariam and MGMT.

1. Walkmen – You & Me

From the reverbed guitar on opening tack Donde Esta la Playa to the end of last track, the ballad ‘If Only It Were True’, it is obvious You & Me is among the best releases of the year. Not only has it that increasingly rare quality of being consistently good throughout, it signals a dramatic shift in The Walkmen’s creative output.  Gone is the emotionless pounding of previous singles such as The Rat and in comes a slower, emotionally charged 60s garage sound. The album, the band’s fourth, also marks a milestone for lead singer Hamilton Leithauser. His emotion is there for all to hear, perhaps for the first time in the Walkman’s back catalogue, especially on ‘Red Moon’. Standout track is undoubtedly In the New Year, an organ drenched epic.

9/10

http://www.myspace.com/thewalkmen

2. Boston Spacehips – Brown Submarine

After a disappointing set of 2007 releases it looked like things were going to get worse in 2008 with the release of the below par Superman Was a Rocker album. But Robert Pollard rallied well with the excellent Robert Pollard Is Off To Business and seemed to be showing signs of his old self. And with the release of Brown Submarine, the first release from his new band Boston Spaceships he really got into his stride.

‘Ready to Pop’ and ‘Psych Threat’ burst with energy as well as horn and string flourishes. ‘Soggy Beavers’ could be an outtake from the classic Alien Lanes LP. ‘You Satisfy Me’ is an album high-point and ‘Two Girl Area’ would stand up favourably against any Pollard song.

Being in a proper band again has clearly revitalised Bob and this could be the best album he has released since he broke up Guided by Voices.

9/10

http://www.bostonspaceships.com/

3. Shearwater- Rook

Created by Jonathan Meiburg and Will Sheff Shearwater have in the past been regarded as a mere folk off-shoot of their band Okkervil River. The beautiful but patchy Palo Santo (2006) began to change that and 2008’s Rook cemented Shearwater as a powerful musical entity in its own right. Minus Sheff and with Meiburg full time, after quitting Okkervil River to concentrate on Shearwater, Rook is packed full of sweeping, impressive tracks, steeped in natural imagery.

Meiburg’s distinctive baritone on songs such as ‘Snow Leopard’ and ‘Leviathan Bound’ have earned the band comparisons with TalkTalk for good reason. Stand out tracks include ‘Rook’ and ‘Hunter’s Star’, on an album that takes the sound of Palo Santo to another level and announces Shearwater’s emergence from Okkervil River’s shadow.

9/10

http://www.myspace.com/shearwater

4. Bon Iver – For Emma Forever Ago

The story of Bon Iver is a compelling one. Justin Vernon splits from his band and retreats to a cabin in the woods for four months. He creates the nom de plume Bon Iver and records the songs that would become For Emma Forever Ago. The songs on the album are as remote and haunting as their origins would suggest.There are overdubs, guitar, drums, vocals and, on the title track, even horns. But these are in keeping with the haunting sound of the record and never smother it.

Bon Iver at Breeders ATP

Bon Iver

There are no weak tracks on the album, and several outstanding ones. ‘Skinny Love’ showcases Vernon’s vocals, and ‘Creature Fear’ has a great chorus amid the drama. It is album closer ‘Re:Stacks’ that best captures the sound of isolation, and ends the album beautifully. For Emma Forever Ago’ is the most accomplished debut of the year and showcases a real new talent.

8.5/10

http://www.boniver.org/

5. Mountain Goats  – Heretic Pride

After three albums of autobiographical introspection the Mountain Goats John Darnielle arrived in 2008 with one of the band’s best albums yet. While Darnielle’s past subjects have included his own shocking childhood experiences of abuse on Heretic Pride, which is produced by John Vanderslice and Scott Solter, there is no such thread, just a collection of immediate and powerful songs. Gone is the autobiographic to be replaced by grand yet homely images of teenage love, religion, motels and middle America.

The opening half is particular powerful from ‘Sax Rohmer #1’ through to ‘Autoclave’. True, some may find Darnielle’s voice jarring but particularly on the album’s standout track ‘San Bernadino’ this album shows a far greater vocal range. Darnielle says on the album’s title track, “they come and pull me from my house, and they drag my body through the streets,” perhaps a passing reference to his confessional previous albums. With Heretic Pride this public ordeal has ended and the Mountain Goats emerge the better for it.

8/10

http://www.mountain-goats.com/

6. TV On The Radio – Dear Science

TV On The Radio really are cooler than cool. They’re based in Brooklyn, Bowie records backing vocals for them and in their spare time they are actors, producers, painters and make music videos for other hyper-cool bands.

Their 3rd album, Dear Science, is their most satisfying yet. It mixes Talking Heads (circa Remain In Light) with a contemporary sonic experimental streak, and comes out as something pretty unique.

‘Halfway Home’ is an excellent choice of opener, propulsive, hypnotic and featuring some great falsetto vocal flourishes. ‘Dancing Choose’ is a frenetic chant built around a great pop chorus. ‘Golden Age’ sits at the centre of the album and is brilliantly funky, like Midnite Vulture’s era beck with the jokey irony.

8/10

http://www.tvontheradio.com/

7. Dodos  – Visitor

In the Dodos’ world of indie-folk, drums, acoustic guitar, good melodies and just a hint of Africa are all you need. This third album by the California based Dodos is their most accomplished to date, marrying classic folk and African rhythms with a rock edge through frenetic finger picking and off-kilter percussion. What is most immediate about Visitor is that at its heart it is just two people bashing away at drums and guitars, a back to basics approach that gives the album a unique warmth.

The Dodos

Stand out tracks include ‘Red and Purple’ and ‘Jodi’. ‘Fools’ is another track worth mentioning, a firm favourite at live shows. Its Matt Amato directed video also garnered heavy interest pre-album release via the likes of YouTube, creating a justifiable buzz around the band.

8/10

http://www.myspace.com/thedodos

8. The Week That Was – The Week That Was

The decision to put Field Music on an indefinite hiatus was bad news for anyone who had heard their brilliant 2007 release Tones of Town. The good news was that this meant two albums from the Field Music camp, David Brewis’ School of Language and Peter Brewis with the Week that was.

The self titled album owes a lot to the sounds of the 70s, particularly XTC. Listening to stomping opener ‘Learn to Learn’ it is hard to believe that Brewis wasn’t taking production notes at the Drums and Wires recording sessions. The string laden ‘The Story Waits for No One’ could have been an outtake from XTC’s career high Apple Venus. ‘The Airport line’ could well be the best new wave chamber pop song ever recorded.

The album is more complex in arrangement than Field Music, with strings and pianos playing an equal part to the guitars and drums on many tracks. But it is still a compact pop album weighing in at 8 tracks and just over 30 minutes.

So any disappointment at the demise of Field Music is soon forgotten. Maybe we’ll be treated to four new bands in 2009?

8/10

http://www.myspace.com/theweekthatwas

9. Neon Neon – Stainless Style

The Super Furry Animals were one of the most interesting and enjoyable bands to come out of the UK 1990s scene. But since 2001’s Rings Around The World album they seem to have been in something of a rut. The albums aren’t bad, they just sound like a band repeating itself to an ever smaller audience.

Singer Gruff Rhys clearly just needed something new to energise him as his collaboration with producer Boom Bip, as Neon Neon, is something of a triumph. Stainless Style is a concept album about John Delorean, the Back To The Future car designer and drug trafficker. This unlikely backdrop produces a set of sparkling songs that, in the most part, could have been recorded in 1982. Songs featuring guests Yo Majesty, Spank Rock and Fat Lip have a more modern Hip Hop feel, but it is those with the 80s sheen that work best.

‘Dream Cars’ and ‘I Told Her on Alderan’ are as good as it gets and are probably top 10 hits in an alternate reality where the DeLorean dream lives on.

8/10

http://www.myspace.com/neonx2

10. Broken Social Scene Presents Brendan Canning – Something For All Of Us

While it may seem like half Canada’s musicians are in the Broken Social Scene collective, from Jason Collett to Leslie Feist, at its core it is guitarist and lead vocalist Kevin Drew and bassist Brendan Canning. The first in the Broken social Scene Presents series, Spirit If (2007), showcased the work of Drew and last year Canning had his chance to shine with Something For All Of Us. It is a challenge he more than meets, bettering Drew’s album in terms of  pure pop and creating some of Broken Social Scene’s best and most melodic tracks.

Broken Social Scene (right: Brendan Canning)

Standout songs include the singles ‘Church Under the Stairs’ and ‘Hit the Wall’. The album has its fillers, such as ‘Been At It So Long’ and even one duffer, the misjudged reggae influenced track ‘Love Is New’, but these are minor criticisms of an otherwise excellent addition to the BSS catalogue.

8/10

http://www.brokensocialscene.ca/

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