Shearwater and My Brightest Diamond

Delicate indie offshoots deliver lovely, inconvenient truths

Jonathan Meiburg and Shara Worden are the king and queen of fragile rock, from their lyrics (and the way they're delivered) to the eclectic instruments that complement them, including hammered dulcimer, harp, and kalimba. It comes as no surprise, then, that the themes of their respective bands' new albums—Rook, by Meiburg's Okkervil River offshoot Shearwater, and A Thousand Shark's Teeth, by Worden's Sufjan Stevens offshoot My Brightest Diamond—are as fragile as the leg lamp in A Christmas Story.

Rook, a follow-up to the Kelefa Sanneh–endorsed Palo Santo, is an unwitting supplement to Al Gore's climate-crisis campaign, speaking of apocalypse in the face of inaction. "Rooks" (the song is plural) glides on an elegant electric-guitar riff, lap-steel guitar, and searing trumpet while Meiburg—an avid birder who's done field research in the Galápagos—sings about Johnny Rooks, swallows, and gulls meeting their maker; for a kicker, he offers: "And we'll sleep until the world of man is paralyzed" in a tone that obliterates his boy soprano. "Century Eyes," meanwhile, is the album's lone lightning bolt—totally in-sync clangs, squalls, and rumbles that suddenly have the plug pulled on them, leaving you wanting another verse.

Meiburg also ponies up non-"green" songs like "Home Life," wherein a young girl sizes herself up against the boys; Shara Worden could very well be the manifestation of that girl on Shark's Teeth, the follow-up to MBD's sleek debut, Bring Me the Workhorse. "Inside a boy I found a universe/And in his eyes are a thousand stars on a dark sky," she coos on "Inside a Boy," a fusion of electric-guitar blasts and plentiful strings. Her operatic voice is all the more riveting on "Ice and the Storm," another account of the innate bond between soulmates. Worden's chamber-influenced compositions—nearly all of them about love in some form—have been percolating for six years, and the evidence shows she's been a nurturing mother.

Both albums exude grace and vocal excellence in the realm of Art Garfunkel or Kate Bush—a consequence of the earth-shattering stakes at hand. The rub is that Shark's Teeth is better than good but Rook is great, with an emotional clarity and narrative acuity that makes it one of the year's most rewarding listens.

Shearwater play the Music Hall of Williamsburg June 19

 
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