In an attempt to seek out some of their quieter music-making desires, original members of Okkervil River Jonathan Meiburg and Will Sheff collaborated on a side project called Shearwater back in 2001. The effort of the duo wasn't in vain, as their side project morphed into a popular act with eight albums under their belt (even with Will Sheff's departure). The eighth album, Animal Joy, which came out on Valentine's Day, proves how they're not only able to successfully break away from a set genre, but admirably progress within a different genre (on a new label no less).
Meiburg's falsetto vocals worked perfectly on previous, more sorrowful albums such as Palo Santo (2006) and Rook (2008), but Animal Joy is an obvious attempt to transition into more epic territory-- and Meiburg showcases that his voice can work in a variety of musical capacities. The album is clearly an ode to Jonathan's academic background in geography and the first track, "Animal Life," is a perfect first sentence to a beautifully constructed, endlessly interesting story. The subtleties of the song-- with big vocals and lush instrumentals-- prepare you for the second track, "Breaking the Yearlings," a darker tune that is heavy on the drums but still inevitably uplifted by Meiburg's voice.
"Immaculate," the sixth track, may be the most surprising song on the album. The band is clearly taking strides in the direction of the 80s, with a punchy bassline and punky guitar riffs. It's a much needed break from slower, but necessary songs like, "You As You Were"-- the kind of song loyal fans are probably searching for. It is clear that after changing labels from Matador to Sub-Pop, Shearwater's sound has gone through a bit of a change. But, simply because an album doesn't tell a story full of emotionally pleasing, smoothly progressing chapters, doesn't mean it's unworthy. Usually, the things we enjoy most in a compelling LP are interspersed with surprises and sharp turns, and when we reach the end and look back on the journey, or in this case, the album, we appreciate the surprises because they stimulate senses that we sometimes forget we're using. Nevertheless, Animal Joy is an ecclectic blend of influences and sounds, but remains rooted in Meiburg's reliably gorgeous vocals and loyalty to a specific breed of music making ideas.