Other bands may be content with chasing women and flirting with rehab, but Shearwater's ambitions are considerably loftier. Often aided by a core of trusted contract players, the Austin trio sometimes seems like a classical chamber ensemble masquerading as a folky art-rock band. Or maybe both. Leader Jonathan Meiburg started Shearwater as a collaboration with Okkervil River's Will Sheff, but struck out on his own with 2006's Palo Santo, the first volume of their acclaimed "Island Arc" trilogy with Rook (2008) and The Golden Archipelago (2010). Those three albums were littered with mythological allusions and anchored in Meiburg's ornithological studies in some of the most remote places on the planet (northern Australia, the Falkland Islands), each one growing more majestic. Then Shearwater jumped ship from Matador to Sub Pop for perhaps their most compelling album yet, last month's Animal Joy. Both intimate and immediate, the LP mingles still-lifes like "Believing Makes It Easy" and "You as You Were" with the throbbing "Breaking the Yearling" and "Immaculate," a lo-fi scatter gun that recalls Shearwater's distant ancestors Guided by Voices, before culminating with the Wilco-esque grandeur and warmth of "Star of the Age."
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