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Rhythm & Views

Shearwater

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Shearwater vocalist and songwriter (and ornithologist) Jonathan Meiburg's voice is otherworldly--there is no better word for it.

His vibrato wavers on the edge of unsettling; his volume and key changes arrive suddenly, like a memory you thought you'd forgotten; he delivers terrifying and poetic lines with casual abandon. He sounds as if he's from another era, and it's not clear whether it's in the past or future. He sounds as if he's from another place--somewhere more mythical, at least, than Austin, Shearwater's home.

On Rook, Shearwater's fifth record, this strange displacement of time and space is everywhere, from the startling wall of noise that hits a minute and a half into "On the Death of the Waters," to the blend of filmic strings and plinking dulcimer on "Leviathan, Bound."

"Century Eyes" is a rock anthem for a postmodern pirate ship, and when Meiburg's voice gets so quiet that you can hear the effort it takes for him to sing that strongly in that small of a voice on "I Was A Cloud," the softness of the song becomes overpowering. On "The Snow Leopard," metal scraping sounds combine with droning electric guitars while Meiburg, with that incredible voice, wails ethereal "ooo-oo-oohs."

And then the man behind the mirror suddenly becomes visible: Like any great album, the subtleties on Rook are what make it mesmerizing. The careful dynamics between soft/loud and rough/smooth morph into headier dynamics between times and spaces, constructing Rook into an album you sink completely, entirely, totally into.

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