When Shearwater was formed a decade ago by Jonathan Meiburg and Will Sheff it was done so as a retreat from the more hard-edged sound of their day job Okkervil River, and although Shearwater's debút album was actually released prior to the first Okkervil River full-length it has always been the former that, at least until the amicable split in 2008 which saw Will Sheff take charge of Okkervil River and Jonathan Meiburg Shearwater, have been referred to as 'the side project', and as such have rested in the shadow of Okkervil's ascendancy.
'Animal Joy' is the fifteenth full-length in eleven years between the two, and the eighth for Shearwater themselves. It finds the band returning to the pacier, less introspective sound of 2006's 'Palo Santo', which is often seen as their benchmark. Meiburg has recently commented on the bands desire to revert to a rockier sound after the hushed triumverate of 'Rook', 'The Golden Archipelago' and 'Shearwater Is Enron', and 'Animal Joy' is the result of a pursuit well worth taking.
For whilst the preceding trio have found the band with the foot firmly off the pedal, 'Animal Joy' is positively bristling with energy. Opener 'Animal Life' is a perfect encapsulation of everything Shearwater; the chiming, interlocking melodies and Meiburg's fluttering falsetto bursting as it makes the bridge from verse to chorus, telling a story wrought with vivid imagery. It brings to mind the soaring yet undeniably earthy arrangements of Elbow, instilled with a reflective approach more akin to latter day Talk Talk or Tindersticks.
On the pulsating, piano led 'You As You Were' they bring to mind The National, if they swapped cheap red wine on dark, lonely nights for magical elixirs consumed in some mythical fairytale. On closer 'Star Of The Age', which finds itself on similar grounds to those that Canadians The Arcade Fire & The Dears have found themselves recently, Meiburg takes on a lower register that is perfectly suited for the album's most direct, indie-rock radio friendly number, and offers another indication of his, and the bands, enviable talents.
Throughout 'Animal Joy' more prominence is afforded to percussionist Thor Harris, perhaps the most aptly named man in rock, and this is one of the foremost reasons for the bands return to form. Whilst previously songs like 'Pushing The River' would have floated by here they are given a sense of urgency through thunderbolt drum fills delivered with a velocity more akin to industrial legends Swans, who hired Thor for their last album. Yet he is also intelligent enough to know when to halt his assault and veer away from the realms of showmanship, such as on the down-tempo 'Open Your Houses'.
'Animal Joy' could, and indeed should, be the album that pulls them once and for all out of the shadow of their root band. It is the sound of a band forgetting their modus operandi and throwing off the shackles, and the sound of one truly, finally, hitting their peak.