Nestled at the midway point of Animal Joy is ‘Immaculate’; it’s a short burst awash with early ’80s alt-rock dizziness, in which Shearwater leader Jonathan Meiburg sounds like a cross between a young Michael Stipe and Bob Mould. It stands out, marking something of a departure for the prolific Texans. On this seventh LP and debut for Sub Pop, the other ten tracks contained very much feel like business-as-usual. That’s no bad thing as that means Meiburg, and more specifically his voice, is central to the record – liked a pumped-up choirboy crossed with Mark Hollis, he has one of the most beguiling vocals around. On ‘Insolence’, that boisterousness is matched by shimmering soundscapes, reminiscent of Hollis’ Talk Talk. It’s a track that rattles along with gentle drum brushes, soft guitar, and piano before hitting a wonderfully grandiose crescendo.
While 2010’s The Golden Archipelago officially marked the end of Shearwater’s environmentally-themed trilogy of records (the “Island Arc”), a cursory glance at song titles and the lyrics sheet for Animal Joy (the opening two tracks are ‘Animal Life’ and ‘Breaking The Yearlings’) indicates that Meiburg’s fascination with animals and nature is still very much in tact – not really a surprise for someone who wrote their Masters Thesis on birds of prey. Even more evident is an aura of restlessness in his lyrics; witness the refrain of “I am leaving the life” on ‘You As You Were Here’. Throughout, this foreboding sense is compounded by wickedly inventive percussive play from Thor Harris.
It’s an ambitious album that starts at a forceful pace finds space for the gently folk-tinged ‘Run The Banner Down’ and the slow-burning ‘Believing Makes It Easy’: Animal Joy won’t mark any major breakthrough for Shearwater but will add to an already fine cannon of songs.