Covered In Cool

Shearwater kicks the crap out of other bands’ songs

by James Brotheridge

shearwater

cd-shearwaterShearwater
Fellow Travelers
Sub Pop
4 out of 5

The list of bands Shearwater covers on their latest album features groups like The Baptist Generals (who I know I should like), Wye Oak (whose record I haven’t gotten around to yet) and Xiu Xiu (an acquired taste that I’ve never, ever acquired).

So I’m mostly unable to line these songs up against the original versions.

(I do remember the original version of Folk Implosion’s “Natural One”, a weird choice to be sure. The original is a product of its time, as chilled-out a track as Lou Barlow will ever make.)

But never mind, because Fellow Travelers makes for an aces Shearwater record. The band took some time finding their sound, with a cool distance in their songs that often didn’t work at all with lead singer Jonathan Meiburg’s always-emphatic, always-dramatic voice. Then came 2012’s Animal Joy — a high for the group, with each and every kink worked out.

Fellow Travelers shows how great their powers are at the moment. They take St. Vincent’s “Cheerleader” and give it a barroom-style sorrow that Meiburg pulls off perfectly. Working a piano and some soft vocals, he also does a beautiful version of Coldplay’s “Hurts Like Heaven”. Even “I Luv the Valley OH!!!” by the dreaded Xiu Xiu comes out sounding great.

Need a bonus? How about a Meiburg duet with Jagjaguwar recording icon Sharon Van Etten — a perfect pairing of two crazily unique vocalists.

Fellow Travelers works as well as it does because Shearwater treats it like any of their other albums. They work hard to find variety, shifting between mostly solo, acoustic songs, to piano numbers, to weird takes on folk style. Meiburg unites it all, and does it wonderfully.

cd-cheaptimeCheap Time
Exit Smiles
In the Red
3 out of 5

I have a mouse that lives in my apartment. He’s little and scrappy and doesn’t need to do too much to let me know he’s there. He (or she, I ain’t no mouseologist) does shit in a ballsy, occasionally reckless fashion.

Nashville scramble rockers Cheap Time have a pretty similar shtick. They pop up, get your attention, nibble on your surroundings and split before you can have a proper think about what’s happened. Exit Smiles (the band’s fourth full-length) kicks off with the careening-out-of-control title track and leans in to distribute jittery thrills of varying quality throughout its eight track run-time.

The results sometimes feel a bit undercooked (Exit Smiles is build-up heavy and payoff light), but the proto-punk ingredients still have their charms — in particular the glammed out explosion of “Eight O’ Five”. /Dan MacRae

cd-teenlandTeenland
Teenland
Self-Released
3 out of 5

A full-sized critical hammer for teenland probably isn’t warranted, since everything about their record screams “dudes having fun.” The Bandcamp page for their new, debut (and perhaps only) record notes that it was “written over two evenings, rehearsed over two afternoons and recorded over two days.”

The band’s membership — and the fact they get some things right — makes this record worth mentioning. Michael Dawson (Library Voices), Matt Goud (Northcote), Graham Jones (Yukon Blonde) and Leif Thorseth (Rah Rah) do a good job of capturing the fuck-it charms of an early age. Sometimes, it’s a bit of goofy fun, like an under-two-minutes cover of the Vaselines’ “Molly’s Lips”. (They credit the Nirvana version, too.) Elsewhere, the fun feels more self-indulgent, as songs like “A Wolf Cry in a Wool Coat” and “Young and Foolish” get lost in chugging, sludgy riffs that don’t hold interest.

But Goud, who’s doing the lion’s share of the singing as far as I can tell, fronts some good low-key songs throughout the record. Welcoming and fuzzy rock songs like “Sad Eyes” and “Make Nice” even top some of his work on the last Northcote full-length. /James Brotheridge

cd-dogdayDog Day
Fade Out
Fundog
3.5 out of 5

Fade Out is Halifax’s Dog Day at their most gloomy — although compared to the national average, that’s still chipper. Dog Day’s earlier records owed more to Haligonians like Sloan and The Super Friendz, while this one is more rooted in reverberant post-punk.

From the quietly spectacular “Interview” to scrappier tracks like “Alone With You” and “Wasted” (which is a semi-converted Black Flag rip), these songs sound uniformly like the dim tunnel on the cover. And while there’s little to nothing wrong with the more stripped-down Dog Day records, the expansion here is welcome.

It’s tempting to label the more lush sound of Fade Out as growth — especially considering that the band is about to tour as a four-piece, rather than the core duo of Seth Smith and Nancy Urich — but it’s probably just another instance of a decent, multifaceted band doing what they do. Which is also welcome. /Mason Pitzel

2013-11-28

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