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Rook Chris Roberts , June 9th, 2008 00:00

Shearwater - Rook

You are a flaxen-haired warrior, probably Nordic, urging your massive and handsome white horse towards the enemy battlements, where you face certain, if heroic, death. You are a lonely cosmonaut, left behind by your comrades, a bit chilly, floating and staring at the void. You are the monster-bloke from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the one with a name a bit like Taliban, both monarch and victim of your deserted, ravaged isle, seeking saviour ships that never come.

Actually, sorry to kill the mood, but you are none of these things: it’s just that Shearwater’s second album makes the kind of noises and grand gestures that lift you into far-out fantasy and make you froth up such pretentious guff, and it is a long, long time since a purportedly indie record did anything so large and dream-stoked.

Here are the spiritual heirs of the quite wonderful and very beautiful Rook: Talk Talk circa Spirit Of Eden, David Sylvian, The Blue Nile, Scott Walker circa Climate Of Hunter, John Martyn circa Grace And Danger, John Cale. Here are the contemporary, vogue-ish acts it fits in with. Pass. It’s about five times as interesting as Fleet Foxes and seven times as elevated as Bon Iver. It’s an iceberg, a grey coastline dotted with black birds, a bombed-out Eastern European village where pretty if malnourished little urchin girls run around the rubble in their dads’ socks.

Shearwater are from Austin, Texas, but their sadness is as far as you can get from a music industry jolly-up. 2006’s Palo Santo showed glimpses, was impressive and ambitious, maybe was a bit heavy on the Prog. This is their artistic breakthrough, one hell of a voice having been found. Jonathan Meiburg owns the voice, or perhaps it owns him. It’s stentorian, or it’s falsetto: it strides, then quivers. There are harps, trumpets, strings. Whatever. Magic happens. The themes of Rook are, apparently, “man’s intersection with the natural world, the hunter and the prey, the world after human beings are one”. All well and good. I prefer, and so should you, to just let it wash over me and into me, and feed and soothe my inner melancholic.

You know it’s going to be great - not just good, but great - when opener 'On The Death Of Waters' croons in all pensive and restrained then suddenly goes crash like the last night of the proms if the last night of the proms was curated by a pathological arsonist. Then 'Rooks' hits a burbling, surreptitiously sexy| I want to say “groove”. From there it just grows bigger, broodier, even more present. By the time the majestic melodrama of 'The Snow Leopard' growls and purrs onto the plains, you’ve been taken, tested, enchanted and shaken up. There will be few if any more arresting creations this year. Rook is not just another thing on the endless conveyor belt of things. It makes time stop, then move. It is not of this time.