This review was difficult to write for one main reason, and that is because ‘Animal Joy’ is such an amazing record. How could I fill out a review with words like ‘WOW’ and ‘Record of the Year’, which was all I could utter on my first few listens through? Even though this is an accurate assessment of Shearwater‘s latest opus it is not enough to try and convey the quality of the songs Jonathan Meiburg has written here in their debut for Sub Pop Records.

‘Animal Joy’ is a departure from the previous albums and Shearwater takes their sound, as they describe themselves, into a more ‘rock’ arena than the previous ‘Island Arc’. The additional sonic use of feedback guitars and the drumming of Thor Harris certainly move the style towards a rock feel, but Meiburg’s vocals hit home in a way that I haven’t heard since Mark Hollis. Their intimacy set against the large expanse of the music can be both claustrophobic and exhilarating in equal measures. The music builds and develops from song to song setting a story of a journey, migration and transition creating reverb-drenched visions of black and white tones and shades.

It is hard to pick any stand-out tracks but the trio of ‘Dread Sovereign’, ‘You as You Were’ and ‘Insolence’ highlight the genius of this album. The spine-tingling simple guitar of ‘Dread Sovereign’ and desperation in the vocal help raise this track to soaring heights. “You as You Were’, with its driving piano and muted build-up of the drums, sets a pace of elation; of love, a life passed and joys remembered. The disembodied industrial percussion matched against the haunting vocal set the backdrop of a damning piece of reflection where you can feel the frustration rising to its heart-ripping crescendo on ‘Insolence’.

Shearwater have definitely moved on with this album, and this could easily be a ‘break-through album’, with both anthemic songs and great song-writing; the live shows are going to be a joy and will raise them up to the forefront of music where, on the evidence of ‘Animal Joy’, they fully deserve to be. It’s early in 2012, and this is an amazing start to the musical year. This will be at the top of a lot of end-of-year lists and fully deserves to be.

Animal Joy is released on February 27th through Sub Pop Records

Posted by Chris Hughes

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