thu 18/07/2024

Album: Shearwater - The Great Awakening | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Shearwater - The Great Awakening

Album: Shearwater - The Great Awakening

After six years away, the erudite Texans ponder the state of the nation

Shearwater's 'The Great Awakening': stately

The title The Great Awakening is a metaphor for America’s switch from its previous presidential administration to the current: the arrival of a new era and, with it, a fresh phase of life. Emblematic of this is the xenarthran, a type of armadillo, which lends its name to the album’s third track. Native to South America, it slogs its way into Texas where it deals with a new environment.

While Texas outfit Shearwater’s seventh album, the follow-up to 2016’s Jet Plane and Oxbow (there are other, less formal, releases) is chock-full of allusions, the band’s driver Jonathan Meiburg has chosen a more readily fathomable musical style to frame his cryptic tales of fauna, flora and place. The rockiness of before is supplanted by a shadowy distillation of Talk Talk and the Scott Walker of Night Flights and Tilt. There are also hints of the crepuscular aspects of Big Star’s third album and odd suggestions of Peter Gabriel. All of this makes the stately The Great Awakening forceful. Meiburg’s voice often sounds drained.

In an unusual move, over two hours of the musical sketches The Great Awakening draws from were heard in 2020 via the internet as Quarantine Music Vols. 1-8. It’s worth hearing these after the album as they show the work which has gone into perfecting these 11 new tracks. Also important and integral to The Great Awakening are field recordings made by Meiburg: massed howler monkeys feature on “Xenarthran.”

Meiburg made the field recordings during travels undertaking research for his 2021 book about the South American bird of prey the caracaras A Most Remarkable Creature: The Hidden Life and Epic Journey of the World's Smartest Birds of Prey. In 2006, his master’s thesis was titled The Biogeography of Striated Caracaras (Phalcoboenus Australis). And in this context, the fine-tuned The Great Awakening is not a stand-alone album. Scientific analysis, writing, music – for Jonathan Meiburg, all are indivisible and intertwined.


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