With one listen of Rook, Jonathan Meiburg’s recent departure from the highly acclaimed Okkervil River becomes entirely understandable. Easily Shearwater’s defining moment, their fifth album is so distinct that to label it as a side-project would be a great disservice.
Rooted in natural imagery (Meiburg practices ornithology in his free time), the album envisions a menacing make-believe wilderness worlds away from the interference of mankind. As the voice of a pilgrim seeking sanctuary within that void, Meiburg’s restrained falsetto provides a slipstream of beautifully crafted vignettes.
Shifting from the album’s most intimate moment to its most thunderous within the opening 90 seconds, the hushed vocals and gentle piano lines of -On the Death of the Waters’ are swallowed up by a surging post-rock sound, materialising the apocalyptic wave Meiburg sings of. It’s a stroke that not only introduces Rook’s dark, swirling undercurrent but epitomises the tight fit between the pristine production and Meiburg’s fine lyricisms.
Having been inspired by Peter Matthiessen’s book of the same name, -The Snow Leopard’ represents a fitting climax where the album’s solitary figure finally becomes overwhelmed by his journey. Such scenes could have easily been grandiose, but the arrangements are handled with a precision that guides the songs into one flowing movement, absorbing the listener with a vivid fairytale of creatures mythical, endangered and extinct.
By condensing that world to just 38 minutes, Rook’s every moment is not only carefully measured but made to matter, making it one of the most graceful and accomplished releases of the year.