When you have a voice like Jonathan Meiburg’s—a sad, echoed-out tenor that registers high but resonates deep—there is no sense avoiding drama. The voice announces it, needs it, revels in it. And his songs do tend effortlessly to convey drama, via a combination of careful unfolding, subtle evocation, and urgent unleashing.
“You As You Were” beings with one note—a D# on the keyboard, repeated rapidly by the right hand for 5 seconds before stepping down to a C# as the left hand begins to sketch out a thoughtful melody under the ongoing hammering of the dominant hand’s single note. A quiet bass drum has added a pulse but maybe you don’t even notice. The rest of the band lays back until past the 40-second point. Somewhere in here the singing has started. And yet the song doesn’t feel as if it has truly kicked in until 1:24, when the drums finally give us a backbeat. And even so there’s a sense of restraint, something being held back, and finally we see what it was when one of the earlier melodies returns with a variation that leads us to a previously unheard three-note descent starting at 2:28 that features the song’s highest notes and its clearest (if still vague) sense of climax. Note that the song seems all verse, with a couple of related melodies, each of which go through some variations; there is no obvious lyrical repetition even as some key words and images recur—river, blood, mountains, weather. The song seems to be about both the damage and the promise of a personal epiphany. The combination of music and poetry here is exquisite, and well worth close, repeated listens to get to the bottom of the drama.
“You As You Were” is a song from the album Animal Joy, coming out next week on Sub Pop Records. This is Shearwater’s seventh full-length (not counting the experimental, instrumental, self-released Shearwater Is Enron album from 2010). It is the band’s first album for Sub Pop; they have recorded previously for both Matador Records and Misra Records. The MP3 is available via Sub Pop, and note that if you click on the first Sub Pop mention in this paragraph, you’ll find another free and legal MP3 from the album that is also available, and also worth hearing.