Shearwater – Fellow Travelers Review

Shearwater Fellow Travelers

A covers album that vacillates between pleasant and astonishingly self-indulgent.

Sub Pop, 2013

5.4 / 10

I’ve had this album in my iTunes for probably about a month now. I listen to a few songs, get bored, and then invariably start listening to something else. I’ve kept this routine up for the past month as I genuinely wanted to give this album it’s fair shake, and I do have to admit that on repeated listens certain songs really have begun to grow on me. However, I can’t seem to escape the feeling that there is something very affected and disingenuous about this album.

On the surface, that could easily be attributed to the fact that it’s a covers album containing covers of bands that Shearwater has toured with from everyone from Coldplay to Xiu Xiu. And yet, my repeated listens have forced me to realize that there is a deeper disconnect between the material, the music, and the actual singing. To be frank, I never really believe it even when the music and lyrics are technically sound. It simply as a body of work doesn’t break that third wall and exist in a space other than as sounds on my computer.

Now this is a highly subjective criticism and it’s important to recognize that even with this reservation there are still tracks on the album that I do enjoy. The more rock tinged songs like “I Love the Valley OH!!” sound more effortless and natural than the softer songs which, by in large, sound whiny and as if the band is getting off on playing the world’s tiniest violin. “Fucked Up Life” is the exception to this though. It’s a The Baptist Generals cover that gives me tinsy James Taylor vibes which I find intriguing (I’m from NC and a fanatical love of all things James Taylor is pretty much mandatory).

I suppose I can’t fault band leader and vocalist Jonathan Meiburg (formerly of Okkervil River) on lyrics as after all these are covers, yet I can be mind boggled over the choice of covers. “Ambiguity” a David Thomas Broughton cover actually contains the lyrics: “Such selfishnesses trivialize any tenderness as the coffee commands the torture of my bowels.” Perhaps I should in fact be giving Meiburg credit for being able to sing that and not start convulsing with laughter. “A Wake for the Minotaur” is the only original on the album and is a collaboration with Sharon Van Etten. A good rule of thumb for bands when considering which artists to ask to feature on your album is to always make sure that you will sound better or at least on par with the featured artist. However, Sharon manages to make the song sound thoughtful while Meiburg sounds saccharine and self indulgent.

I can appreciate what Meiburg was attempting, but this album will soon be lost to the black hole that is the ironic/angsty/literary/organic coffee mugs with mustaches/pretentious indie rock scrap pile.

Purchase: Sub Pop Store / Amazon

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