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Shearwater (The Kennedy Center)

Shearwater

Hailed as "almost impossibly majestic and beautiful" (NPR), Shearwater's Palo Santo (2007, Matador), a suite of ethereal but oddly disquieting art-rock songs loosely centered around the life and death of singer Christa Paffgen (aka Nico), marked the Texan quartet's debut on the national stage. The New York Times named the album one of the year's very best, and the band's singular combination of sonic abandon and restraint - spun around the soaring, otherworldly voice of part-time ornithologist Jonathan Meiburg - drew comparisons to late-period Talk Talk and both the lovely and anxious moments of Eno's early solo work.This year's much-anticipated Rook takes the band into realms both richer and stranger. Though a similarly haunted, elegaic mood - punctuated by flashes of dread and menace - pervades the album, Rook is its own animal, at once more accessible (the near-title track, "Rooks," anchored by Thor Harris' thunderous kick drum, a booming organ, and a stately trumpet line, could almost be mistaken for radio-friendly) and more accomplished than its predecessor, with a depth and grandeur that seem improbably packed into the album's tidy 35 minutes. Squalls of feedback have largely given way to sudden gusts of strings and woodwinds, though the band's fondness for unusual instrumentation remains intact - harp, hammer dulcimer, and a curiously carved metal box all take featured roles.

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