It’s been six years since the last full Shearwater album, when Jonathan Meiburg ended the tour by praying onstage for the swift death of Donald Trump and his enablers. He needed a break after that, “feeling hopeless”. After doing many other things, from writing a book to performing a recreation of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, he’s revived the Shearwater name to create an album that focuses on the theme of hope duelling with hopelessness. He’s conjured up a remarkable, atmospheric set of songs that marry soulful, urgent testifying and cerebral experiments like field recordings and a choir of howler monkeys. No, really.
Since first appearing as the century turned, this Austin, Texas-spawned project has swum quietly immersed in guileful, graceful, Talk Talk-tinted soundscapes, although 2016’s Jet Plane And Oxbow, a protest record, got heavy. This comeback feeds on their past, but in one breath bristles with righteous ire, while in the next tapping into misty swirls of unconscionable beauty. It’d bewitch even if Meiburg wasn’t such a charismatic singer. Still, somehow, one of music’s best-kept secrets is that Shearwater are very, very special.