Shearwater - Jet Plane and Oxbow - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Shearwater - Jet Plane and Oxbow

by Rob Taylor Rating:7 Release Date:2016-01-22

On Jet Plane and Oxbow, Shearwater have upgraded their sound in the manner The National did between Boxer and High Violet, adopting the sort of blockbuster indie sound prescribed for stadium success. I say that without disdain. Shearwater’s previous albums leant heavily on a doleful blues, and I lost interest years ago, in the way I became distracted from Jason Molina’s Songs Ohia, a beautiful melancholy certainly, but one occasionally suffering a lack of dynamics. 

So, why begrudge Jonathan Meiburg and Co an opportunity to tap a more central marketplace, one whose demands include a tune they can sing along to, music that balances extroversion with introversion. 

The centrepieces on Jet Plane and Oxbow are ''A Long Time Away”, “Backchannels” and “Filaments” which coincidentally, but somewhat conveniently, are in sequence on the album. 

There’s a heartbeat literally percolating away on "A Long Time Away"; bass, drums and voice dominating a thunderous song in which Meiberg’s bittersweet and profound baritone reaches delirious highs, accentuated on the lead-out by reverb and delay; and with a keyboard epilogue that cries out for Meiburg to swing his microphone in an 180 degree arc, releasing his static legs from inertia; while everyone in the crowd moves with him, and the band basks in stadium glory. Again, uncommonly, I say this without disdain, or irony. Great song, I guess.

"Backchannels" is the slow burner that blends Shearwater’s characteristic melancholy with lovely chamber pop, and guitar effects which permeate the song with a eeriness that draws goosebumps, as well as piquing emotional interest. It’s a handsome song. 

Capping off the five star threesome is "Filaments", with its bass heavy groundwork ameliorated by wonderful exotica, bringing to mind groups like Transglobal Underground, but more of an indie and less of a dance outcome. A cracking number that will translate well live, its widescreen vista brought with prodigious ideas and shattering dynamics. 

Unfortunately the scenery becomes blurred around this astonishingly good mid-section, like you’re trying to take it all in from a speeding Greyhound bus. Breathless grandiosity and a nod to the modern loudness wars I suspect. "Only Child" is a nice ballad with candlelight hooks but I find the bridging interludes interrupt the flow of the song. ‘Radio Silence’ is a clear example of where bombast exceeds tasteful dynamic. 

Take note that the new Shearwater could be a force to be reckoned.

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