Animal Joy

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After releasing a pair of gorgeous, languid collections of naturalist-themed chamber pop (Rook, The Golden Archipelago), Shearwater delivers a sealskin boot to the head with the measured but primal Animal Joy, their eighth studio album and first for the Sub Pop label. Dense, powerful, wild, yet immaculately rendered, Animal Joy blends the expansive, cinematic scope of contemporaries like Other Lives and the National with the arty drama of "San Jacinto"-era Peter Gabriel. Jonathan Meiburg's mighty falsetto achieves a richness it has only hinted at on previous outings, and the production, provided by the band along with fellow Texan Danny Reisch (White Denim, Brass Bed), is big-budget slick without feeling souless and sterile. Front loaded with four of its most immediate pleasures ("Animal Life," "Breaking the Yearnings," "Dread Sovereign," and "You as You Were"), the 11-track collection retains the group's penchant for crafting organic, melancholy narratives infused with ecological/mythological imagery, but the pace, due in no small part to the spectacular, precision drumming of Thor Harris, has been significantly tweaked, where even the quietest number, the six-and-a-half minute "Insolence," builds to a satisfying sonic catharsis.

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