There has been a consistent shift in Shearwater‘s approach lately. In the wide musical diorama Jonathan Meiburg always built with his band, the wilderness that distinguished their trilogy of Palo Santo, Rook and The Golden Archipelago started to be replaced by the human experience on Animal Joy, the first release after the band signed with Sub Pop.
Now, in Jet Plane and Oxbow, Shearwater’s ninth studio work, the transformation is complete: where there once was nature, now there’s a nation and its inhabitants, a terrestrial sensibility for civilized life. An unfathomable America, which is portrayed in a peculiar protest album – the composer’s own admission – just like the one sung by David Bowie (unavoidably the first name to come to mind, listening to the 11 tracks of the record) with Trent Reznor almost 20 years ago.
But the main inspiration for this album dates further back, all the way to those early ’80s when technology was still seen as a life-changing revolution. Helping defining the new sound in the two-year making of the record was Brian Reitzell, a long-time cinema soundtrack composer, whose idiosyncratic equipment helped created this new/old world. Meiburg’s powerful, baritone voice, here at its best, flows upon vintage synths and guitars, shaping an epic soundscape as in Filaments, the most interesting song of the album, or the lead single Quiet Americans and the finale Stray Lights at Clouds Hill.
It is, however, a little too indulgent on classic rock at times, losing a bit of strength on Only Child and Wildlife in America, both no doubt a missed chance for very good ballads, or in vapid tracks like Glass Bones and Radio Silence. And it’s a real pity that, despite all the album’s potential, you can’t but feel a puzzling sense of dissatisfaction after listening: despite the great height it scales, this Jet Plane seems to just vanish into thin air.