A lot of youtube covers I run into of popular songs suffer from a great case of oversinging because they often just copy the music measure for measure (unless they’re doing the bare minimum classic of the acoustic guitar cover) so the “artist” feels like they have to do something – anything – to distinguish themselves. Ten times out of ten, these covers aren’t just worse, they’re downright unlistenable as a result. I’m not familiar with Okkervil River’s music (despite their name appearing on several year-end lists), so I can’t speak to them, and I’m not familiar with the rest of Shearwater’s discography, but here, Jonathan Meiburg is guilty of the same charge. For example, listen to the way he Bon Ivers (this is a verb now) through “Over the r-o-o-olling waves” and “h-i-i-igh” on “On the Death of the Waters” and “The Snow Leopard” respectively, or belts out the laughably meaningless “We’ll sleep until the world of men is PARALYZED!” as if it had meaning.
That aside, this is a pretty terrible album. The annoying dynamic shifts from banal to LOUD on “On the Death of the Water” and the similarly structured but-just-with-military-drums “Lost Boys” feel forced – like they couldn’t tell if they wanted to be a folk or rock band and proceeded to suck at both – and the only thing I have to say the two long ones is that they’re surprisingly passable based on the stuff around them (not a compliment). There’s also no need for a song like “South Col” to exist when it’s already been integrated into “Lost Boys,” while “Century Eyes” is just the LOUD parts of the aforementioned songs without a quiet intro. The good stuff, summed up in less than a paragraph: I like the jangly bounce of “Rooks” and “Leviathan Bound,” produced by guitars and keyboards respectively. The former also has a great bridge, and those wondrous things often get lost in the shuffle while the artist is busy writing verses and choruses, made out of backing vocals and mariachi horns when the band could’ve easily settled for either. Meanwhile, Jonathan Meiburg sings every second line of every verse on closer “The Hunter’s Star” with a lovely hymnal quality, and the strings that come in to elevate the piano climb at the 1:00 mark was such a great touch, you’re left completely dumbfounded when they never bother with that detail again – instead, the strings are delegated to mopey maudlin stuff in the background for the rest of the track.
tinymixtapes’ Julie took down this record perfectly in her list of the styles therein (Talk Talk) and list of other bands similar to it (Talk Talk, Talk Talk, Mark Hollis, Talk Talk), so I’ll just say that “The Snow Leopard” is one of the most blatant forms of plagiarism I’ve ever heard, “Pyramid Song” if “Pyramid Song” had less affecting lyrics and a standard structure. The people who berate Radiohead for abstract lyrics would have a field day with the ones found here. The people who compliment songs with “Sounds like Radiohead” forget that not even Radiohead tried to sound like Radiohead half the time.