A cursory perusing through the dates of Shearwater’s current tour of 2012 indicates the Austin band performing at such venues as Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia, the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn and the Ladies’ Literary Club in Grand Rapids, Michigan. All formidable venues for an established indie act such as they, without question. But this is a group who harbors such a gigantic, sweeping sound it seems more custom made for Madison Square Garden than (the late, great) Mabuhay Gardens.
And no album Shearwater has delivered since springing from the rib of Okkervil River at the dawn of the 20th century says more to their uncanny ability to craft macro-sized music for such micro-sized environs than their seventh full-length endeavor, Animal Joy. There’s something to be said about an LP whose press release is written by the guy who heads the label from which the group had just jumped ship. “Just give ‘em the fucking Grammy already!” gushes Matador Records chief Gerard Cosloy, however, in reference to the band’s Sub Pop debut with no pretense whatsoever. That is huge. It’s hard to imagine Clive Davis hitting the typewriter to promote an act that just signed with Mo Ostin back in the day. But that’s just a testament to how special Shearwater is to their fans, both prolific and otherwise. And Animal Joy will not disappoint any of them in the least.
Recorded over the course of 2011 with local Austin luminary Danny Reisch in their Lone Star State hometown and mixed by indie veteran Peter Katis from his studio in Bridgeport, CT, this record relishes in its statement that “no strings or glockenspiels were touched during the making of this album", making it clear that Animal Joy is in no way an extension of Shearwater’s celebrated "Island Arc" trilogy comprised of 2006’s Palo Santo, 2008’s Rook and 2010’s The Golden Archipelago. But that doesn’t mean the lush grandiosity of principle player Jonathan Meiburg’s songs here are no less epic. In fact, as tracks like "You As You Were" and first single "Breaking the Yearlings" signify, it seems as though they are going even bigger this time, sonically speaking. It’s the kind of rock bands like Coldplay and The Fray attempt to deliver with only half the heart and a fraction of the balls. But Animal Joy comes from a place that is more genuine and real, one rooted in the works of Pulp, Talk Talk and The Frames than some hogwash fed to them by an empty major label suit. And the fact that these tunes teem with lyrics more intimate and personal than anything Meiburg has ever shared with his audience to wit only further compounds the intensity of this music.
It would be great to see Animal Joy do for Sub Pop what the Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs did for Merge. Cosloy is right: just give ’em the fucking Grammy already.