Obsession du Jour


I am the opposite of a Tedious Music Prick;  I’m pretty much happy to listen to the same 50 or so albums from the 50′s – 80′s over and over again for the rest of my life.  I don’t go seeking out new music, and I rarely get all excited and passionate about bands.  I save my frothing hysteria and/or rage for important things like movies and politics.

There are exceptions to everything.

Meet Jonathan Meiburg, singer/songwriter/scientist/auteur/driving force behind the band Shearwater.  I am neck-deep in OCD love with this man and his music, and have been for a few months now.  (Obsession du Printemps? Read on…)

I found Shearwater entirely at random.  A Tumblr page I follow posted a link to this song from their latest album, Animal Joy, and I was hooked instantaneously:

I can’t stop listening to this album.  It’s beautiful, it’s powerful, and like all the best art it’s rich enough to reward repeated enjoyment by revealing new things to appreciate with each listen.  I couldn’t explain why it grabs me like it does.  Could be the soaring harmonies, the delicacy yet strength of JM’s voice, the nature-inspired lyrics, all of the above.  All I know is, I love BIG music and Animal Joy has a very, very BIG sound.

This is probably the “biggest” song on the album:

(For more info about Animal Joy you should listen to this very enlightening interview on Soundcheck on WNYC.  Highly recommended.)

Anyway, thus obsessed, I had to run out and listen to the Shearwater back catalog.  I was leery because every piece of PR I’d read about Animal Joy remarked on what a “departure” in sound it was for them.  I seem to have a knack for finding the “departure” album from a band, then hating the rest of their music.  Happens all the time, so I expected to be disappointed.  Reviews alluded that earlier works were softer, more complex, and less of a straight rock feel.  The dreaded phrase “concept album” even got tossed around in reference to three previous records.  Eek.

But much to my surprise and relief I found a lot to enjoy in earlier works, especially Palo Santo, Golden Archipelago, and Rook.  Yes, the music was a lot more arty (glockenspiels were used!), but very beautiful with wonderful evocations of the natural world, and still a great deal of power, if a quieter sort of power, mainly from JM’s voice.

Here’s a track from Golden Archipelago:

Enough Tedious Music Prickery, time for Fangirling.

Jonathan Meiburg (or as we call him in our house, “Mr. Shearwater”)

Not only is he a lanky, blondish, geek-looking artsy boy (*checks off appropriate boxes*), with the voice of an angel and the soul of a poet, but he has the MIND of a scientist.  There’s a reason Shearwater’s lyrics are so nature-centric:  JM is an Ornithologist by profession and holds a Master’s in Geography and wrote a thesis titled “The Biogeography of Striated Caracaras (Phalcoboenus australis)”.  In between touring, he continues to do research in this field.

Yes, you heard me right.  He’s known enough in his area of expertise that he’s done a six-page interview with…Rolling Stone? Nope….NME? Nope… in Scientific American!  And it’s not a fluff piece — if you didn’t have the preface about JM’s being a musician, you’d never ever guess that he wasn’t just a straight-up pure scientist.

That.  Is.  So.  Hot.

That takes JM out of the league of “Wow, this guy is talented and kinda cute” to “Oh em gee, I lurrrve him!”  And respect him.  How many musicians can you honestly say you respect their sexy intellect?  Yeah, thought so.

Besides his ornithology research, Jonathan has been an occasional guest contributor to Huffington Post where he wrote a thoughtful piece on global warming.

Maybe it’s beyond us. We’re so hard-wired to reproduce, our economies are so dependent on a growing young population, and our minds are so focused on our immediate concerns that we may never voluntarily steer our numbers or our consumption into a sane, graceful decline (though a slight adjustment to the birth rate would work wonders in a short time, and prosaic solutions like contraceptives and improved education and opportunities for women really do help, apparently). When I look out the window of an airplane, I see our fingerprints and footprints on every inch of the landscape, sometimes so thoroughly obscuring it that it’s nearly impossible to imagine what it was like before we swept over it like a wave. It’s hard not to think that we must be approaching some kind of limit, that we’re exhausting our world’s elasticity, its ability to shelter and protect and provide for us. And you wonder: how did this ever become a ‘normal’ kind of life?


And finally if you search YouTube for “In search of Johnny Rook”, you’ll get a 5-part mini nature documentary in which JM takes on a tour to study the aforementioned Striated Caracaras.

Shearwater plays PGH on Monday, May 7 at Altar Bar.

3 Responses to “Obsession du Jour”

  1. Susannah Says:

    Jonathan Meiburg is not what he seems. Be careful about squeeing too long and loudly about him on the internet or you may make yourself a target.

    A friendly heads-up from a sadder but wiser ex-fan.

  2. tarsier Says:

    Interesting. Feel free to send any gossip my way, I don’t shock easily.

  3. whistler Says:

    it’s all good from time to time to be a TMP. All the time is reserved for me.

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