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“Xenarthran” by Shearwater

The band’s first single in years is rich in beautiful, shadowy detail.

It’s been six years since Shearwater’s last proper album, 2016’s Jet Plane and Oxbow. But bandleader Jonathan Meiburg has kept himself busy in the ensuing years, be it publishing a book, releasing several collections of ambient music inspired by the COVID quarantine, covering David Bowie albums with his bandmates, or starting another band entirely. But in 2020, Meiburg hunkered down in Texas to begin work on a new Shearwater album with producer Dan Duszynski.

The new album is titled The Great Awakening, and if the first single “Xenarthran” is any indication, it’s going to be something special. In keeping with Meiburg’s interest in nature, the song’s title refers to the group of animals that includes anteaters, tree sloths, and armadillos, though it’s not about any of them. Rather, it’s about “making your way through the dark spaces of a menacing but still very beautiful world,” according to Meiburg.

“Menacing” and “beautiful” are perfect words to describe “Xenarthran.” Meiburg’s voice is ghostly (in a Bowie meets Scott Walker sort of way) while the song’s arrangements are sparse and off-kilter. But sprinkled throughout its five-and-a-half minutes are fascinating facets and filigrees ranging from gently swelling strings and discordant guitar to a field recording of howler monkeys that Meiburg made in Guyana.

It all comes together to form a listening experience rich in shadowy detail that’s increasingly beautiful with each passing measure. Fans of Talk Talk’s classic Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock albums would do well to give it a spin.

The Great Awakening will be released on June 10 on the band’s own Polyborus label. (And yes, that’s a nature reference, too.)

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