Shearwater Covers Their Tracks on Their Newest Album
From the opening moments of Sub Pop Records newest album release Fellow Travelers from the band Shearwater you can tell it is going to be shaped by its front man, Jonathon Meiburg. Prior to writing these reviews I feel it is important to do a little research on the band. Before doing this investigation Shearwater reminded me heavily of two bands; The Magnetic Fields and Okkervil River. As it turns out, it was not just the similarity of voices that made me think of Okkervil when hearing Fellow Travelers. Actually, Meiburg is a former member of Okkervil River and Okkervil River’s front man, Will Sheff, is conversely a former member of Shearwater. They decided to go separate ways in 2008 after the success of both bands made it impossible for them to pursue both at the same time.
Part of my pre-review research involves leafing through the material in and out of the album’s cover. Fellow Travelers’ cover is an interesting one too say the least. Inside is a booklet that, rather than housing the lyrics of each track, featuring a kind of log of their most recent tour. Anyone familiar with either Okkervil River or Shearwater knows the way that these songwriters fit so much description into each one of their songs, and this tour description only keeps with that trend. Perhaps the reason for such extensive description in the album booklet is because none of the songs on this record are actually written by Meiburg or any other member of Shearwater. The title of Fellow Travelers is not just a poetic ambiguous choice, it is because the album features covers from bands that Shearwater has traveled the country with throughout their years of touring.
The band does an excellent job, whether intentional or not, of kind of hiding the fact that this is a cover album. It wasn't until I did some research on Fellow Travelers that I found out it indeed featured songs originally done by other artists. One of these covers is Coldplay’s “Hurt Like Heaven” which they do a great job of making sound like a Shearwater song rather than just a Coldplay song done by Shearwater, which I believe is a testament to their unique personality as a band. One of the standouts on the record is “I Luv the Valley OH!!”, originally by Xiu Xiu, which is probably the most upbeat, rocking song on the album.
It’s an album that Shearwater themselves admit they never intended to make, and in a way that kind comes out in the work. It seems somehow unfinished like a first draft of what could have been a great album. But in their defense it probably pales in comparison to the importance of their next album for which they are in the studio currently. In the long run this will probably a footnote for the band as a whole, but not one that should be ignored.