The cover art on Shearwaters second release for Matador shows a desolate landscape, and, because the leaders name is Jonathan Meiburg and the drummers name is Thor, I was sure the source was Scandinavian. Nope. The musicians are from Texas. After listening to Rook for a few days, though, I think I understand where my original impression came from. Shearwater feels like a European band, from the vague undercurrent of dread that runs through the lyrics ("And the ambulance man said, theres nowhere to flee for your life," Meiburg sings on the title track) to the melancholy conveyed in the singers voice. Meiburg is singing about a civilization that is dying ("the fading day of our star") and his personal anguish fills Rook.
While there are echoes of other musicians in Rook -- Talk Talks later work came to my mind -- Meiburg uses unusual instrumentation to flesh out his songs, underlining their emotional and lyrical intentions. The trumpet in the title track, for instance, creates drama, tension, and dissonance. For "Leviathan, Bound," Meiburg takes the opening line of Van Morrisons "You Dont Pull No Punches, But You Dont Push the River" and adapts some of that songs musical ideas to his own ends. Morrisons 1978 album Veedon Fleece, where "You Dont Pull " first appeared, is a good touchstone for Rook. Oddly, sometimes battily mystical, Rook has a poetic density that invites careful investigation.
Rook is well recorded, with a rich tonal palette and a wide dynamic range. At first it will strike many as maddeningly pretentious. Perhaps it is, but unlike many pop albums Ive heard recently, it keeps drawing me back.
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