Shearwater - Rook (Plus: Stream The Album In Its Entirety On MySpace)
Rook (Matador 2008)
Until recently, Jonathan Meiburg did double duty in two of Austin, TX's most notable bands: Okkervil River, the quintet who in 2007 had a breakthrough year creatively and commercially with their fifth release, The Stage Names; and Shearwater, who seemed to be poised for a similar fate with their latest release, Rook. But band members and commercial prospects aren't the only two elements that each group shares. Both Okkervil River and Shearwater's music is filled with immaculately crafted songs which effortlessly radiate with epic melodrama.
Despite the similarities between the two bands, there is an immense difference between how each band takes a hold of their listeners. The Stage Names was, upon immediate listen, a brilliant record whose compelling songcraft was evident from the start. Add tragic, self-reflective lyrics about the comings-and-goings in cinema, music, and pop culture, and you've got yourself an incredibly impressive album.
Rook, on the other hand, is as equally as profound, as a listening experience: it just happens that Rook's greatness takes longer to appreciate. In other words, this record is a grower, and a magnificent one at that. Listening to Rook is akin to hearing the transformation of a duckling turning into a swan.
The fact that Rook takes time to grow on the listener is a bit of a surprise, given that the record starts off with an outstanding array of songs: "On The Death of The Waters", a slow-burn, lullaby played a piano which briefly gives way to the epic textures of post-rock before regressing again; "Rooks", the album's first single, laden with spaghetti-western style horns and paced at a light mid-tempo stomp driven by a sturdy, one-note bass line; and "Leviathan, Bound", a epically minimalist folk-song played on harpischord.
These songs, like most of Rook, are driven by an almost baroque sense of grandeur, even when the instrumentation is kept to just the essentials. However, Rook briefly downshifts to the patient, lilting folk of "Home Life" and "Lost Boys". Initially, I regarded this development as a disappointment, as I thought that the album had lost considerable momentum. Over time, with the help of Stones-esque rocker "Century Eyes" and claustrophobic, atmospheric ballad "The Snow Leopard" (which should remind music fans of Radiohead tracks like "Pyramid Song" and "Sail To The Moon), Rook's modus operandi gradually reveals itself, and the slower, more subdued songs become like transitional chapters in a novel: they may seem inessential at the time, but once you've gone back and re-read the passages, the significance becomes achingly clear.
In sum, Rook is an album of incredible patience, craftsmanship, and discipline. There are enough musical ideas for a double-album worth of material--including the lyrics, which frequently reference birds, and how they, and we, are capable of flights of transcendence--but the ten tracks barely reach the 40-minute mark. Though it may take some time to delve into properly, Rook ultimately rewards the patience of those who put the time and effort into unraveling its delicate, supremely crafted sonic subtleties and lyrical mysteries.
Shearwater MySpace Page