Shearwater – Jet Plane and Oxbow (album review)

Label: Sub Pop

Release Date: January 22, 2016

Austin, TX band Shearwater have been making music for over 15 years. Lead members Jonathan Meiburg and Will Sheff are members of the more well-known Okkervil River. Shearwater differs from Okkervil River by having Meiburg and Sheff swap roles, with Meiburg taking lead vocal duties, offering a more reflective sound compared to the edgier roots rock of Okkervil River. But with their latest release Jet Plane and Oxbow, Shearwater have created one of the defining albums of their career that is likely to find them reaching a new audience without alienating their old fans.

On first listen, the sound of this album is breathtaking. Production from Brian Weitzell (known for his soundtrack work on Friday Night Lights, Hannibal and The Bling Ring) gives these songs new life. Jet Plane and Oxbow is an old school rock record in an age where musicians aren’t as focused on albums and are more likely to release EPs and one-off singles. They try on a variety of musical styles, from the electronic-tinged lead single “Quiet Americans” to the shimmering folk-rock stomp of “Pale Kings” to the energetic “Radio Silence” which recalls R.E.M.’s best singles.

The sound of the album is pleasing enough, but the album’s true strength is in the songwriting. The lyrics on Jet Plane and Oxbow are inspired by disillusionment with the American political system in recent years. “Quiet Americans” is the most obvious example of this, but this theme resounds through the entire album. This is not just a collection of pretty songs, it makes a statement as well.

Jet Plane and Oxbow is the kind of album that is perfect for introducing new listeners to this band. It’s Shearwater’s most accessible album to date, without sacrificing the quality of their songwriting. Jet Plane and Oxbow is the first great album of 2016 and definitely a contender for year end lists.

Rating: 9/10

Key tracks: “Quiet Americans”, “Pale Kings”, “A Long Time Away”, “Backchannels”, “Only Child”, “Radio Silence”

I will be writing a review of one album on Squawkin’ Good Tunes each week. Next up: Sunflower Bean’s “Human Ceremony” and Wild Nothing’s “Life of Pause”.