CD Roundup: Shearwater and Efterklang

Over-the-top ornithologists and genre-dabbling Danes.

PHOTO COURTESY MATADOR RECORDS

PHOTO COURTESY MATADOR RECORDS

Jay Boller

Shearwater ALBUM: âÄúThe Golden ArchipelagoâÄù LABEL: Matador RELEASE: Feb. 16 digital, Feb. 23 CD/vinyl When an ornithology-rooted band releases a concept record about real/metaphorical islands with an accompanying 75-page dossier, odds are the LP will be a dense listen. Sound meticulous? Austin, Texas-based Shearwater is such a bird-centric band and their weighty new LP âÄúThe Golden ArchipelagoâÄù is quite a project âÄî a sprawling, hypnotically beautiful one at that. Shearwater began in 1999 as a project between Okkervil RiverâÄôs Jonathan Meiburg and Will Sheff, with Shearwater serving as the cerebral, slower yin to OkkervilâÄôs emotionally charged, roots-rocky yang. âÄúThe Golden ArchipelagoâÄù is the groupâÄôs sixth LP and Meiburg, an ornithologist, has since left his rockier project to tour and record under the Shearwater moniker full-time. âÄúThe Golden ArchipelagoâÄôsâÄù opener, âÄúMeridian,âÄù starts off normal enough. Dueling acoustic guitars are delicately picked as a bass drum ominously thuds. Then MeiburgâÄôs trademark voice kicks in. âÄúIn the burning days/of a natural light,âÄù the frontman bellows, âÄúTook a long drive/into the evening.âÄù Those lyrics, in and of themselves, arenâÄôt impactful to the eye. But MeiburgâÄôs impossibly over-the-top, operatic projecting breathes dramatic life into them, as his vocals meld into the lush arrangements that support them. The result almost sounds like a parody of a new-age rock singer, but it works. The ensuing songs balance atmospherics (the piano-heavy âÄúHidden LakesâÄù) with experimentation (the violently urgent âÄúCorridorsâÄù) and the underlying theme is uncompromising attention to detail. âÄúThe Golden ArchipelagoâÄù may take itself too seriously, but itâÄôs of the same obsessively crafted bent as âÄúYankee Hotel Foxtrot,âÄù and its underlying beauty is undeniable. MeiburgâÄôs Shearwater products arenâÄôt for cars, friends or parties. No, theyâÄôre headphone fodder that begs for the same practiced ears that might desire a literary accompaniment to their musical main course. 4 of 5 stars Efterklang ALBUM: âÄúMagic ChairsâÄù LABEL: 4AD RELEASE: Feb. 23 Scandinavians arenâÄôt just the constant butt of Garrison KeillorâÄôs tired jokes. No, theyâÄôre also feverous producers of indie rock. Peter Bjorn and John (Sweden), Kings of Convenience (Norway ) and Sigur Rós (Iceland) have all emblazoned their names on American indie culture, and DenmarkâÄôs Efterklang is continuing the tight-panted euro invasion with their third LP âÄúMagic Chairs.âÄù Efterklang functions under the ambiguous guise of experimental pop and their first two LPs have been quietly lauded by American press the likes of Pitchfork . The quartet boasts a loose, listenable sound à la neighbors PB&J and balances tempo/genre shifts admirably while holding strong to clear pop sensibilities. On âÄúMagic Chairs,âÄù Efterklang continues its album-by-album taming of experimental impulses and the result is an indie pop record with enough of a risk-taking pedigree to keep things interesting. âÄúMagic ChairsâÄù sees Efterklang indulging in the same busy ensemble pop itâÄôs known for. There are various claps, smacks, buzzes, bursts and beeps dotting many of the songs, providing a âÄúguess whatâÄôs next?âÄù novel thrill. âÄúModern Drift,âÄù the discâÄôs first single, starts with pianos, veers into 8-bit electronics and trails off with strings. âÄúScandinavian LoveâÄù starts with minimal drums and ambles through trumpet and fiddle territory. Such an ADD-afflicted strategy risks a lack of cohesion, but itâÄôs abundantly clear Efterklang, the indie pop band, is at the helm throughout. The lighter, more cheerful moments on âÄúMusical Chairs,âÄù âÄî âÄúI Was Playing Drums,âÄù âÄúRaincoats,âÄù âÄî certainly work, but the darker and groove-heavy numbers are what really stand out. The best example of this more textured sound? âÄúMirror Mirror,âÄù a swelling song that harkens a more organic Arcade Fire. The Coldplays and Phoenixes of the world will be remembered by history books as the preeminent torch-bearers of early millennium euro rock, but itâÄôs relieving to know that an undercurrent of delightful pop acts like Efterklang are seeping their way in. 3.5 of 5 stars