I make no secret of the fact that Okkervil River is my favorite band. In fact, I make no secret of the fact that I harbor what borders on an "unhealthy obsession" with Will Sheff and his Austin multi-instrumentalists. Given this information, it's only natural that Shearwater holds a special place in my heart. Shearwater, formed alongside Okkervil River by Sheff and Jonathan Meiburg, eventually parted ways with Okkervil River (Although Meiburg is very much still a part of both bands, as evidenced on Okkervil River's latest release, Mermaid) to concentrate mainly on Shearwater. The bands are very much siblings and given the fact that there's not a single ounce of bad blood between Sheff and Meiburg, it makes it almost blasphemy to adore one of the bands and not the other.
Okkervil River has always, since my discovery of them five plus years ago, held the top spot in my heart. In recent months, however, I've delved into Shearwater's discography with a fervor that has lead to my love of Meiburg growing exponentially - Something that I didn't think was possible given the extreme, uh, lady-boner for Meiburg that I've harbored since I first saw pictures of him alongside Sheff in press photos for the masterpiece that was Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy.
It was a Wednesday in February when how much I loved Shearwater finally hit me - My favorite part of the new Okkervil River b-side, "Walked Out On A Line"? Meiburg's inclusion. The records I'd been listening to most while lounging about or working in the kitchen? Shearwater's. In fact, the desire to hear Meiburg's powerful, otherworldly vocals had been growing inside of me for some time and so it was that I decided to embark upon another 74-Play Challenge, with my favorite Shearwater song, "Rooks".
Listen One: I've probably listened to "Rooks" upwards of a thousand times since it's 2008 release. I remember the first time I heard it, being relatively unfamiliar with Shearwater as a band outside of it's Okkervil River connection. I had purchased Rook off Matador's website and gotten the record in the mail. I was in no rush to listen to it but I couldn't sleep that night so I decided to lay on my living room floor and listen to the band's latest offering. What I knew of their past work gave me the impression that the disc would lull me to sleep. With opening track "On The Death Of The Waters", that notion was dispelled but it was "Rooks" that made it certain I would get no sleep that night. "Rooks" opens with a guitar subtle and intricate, so haunting that it's impossible to ignore. Meiburg's voice, an instrument in and of itself, is at it's best here, perfectly conveying the mortality so deftly described in his lyrics. By the time Scott Brackett's crystalline trumpet comes in for the songs coup de gras, "Rooks" has woven a dark and lovely web around you. I listened to "Rooks" a number of times that night and nearly three years later, still often play it for people I've just met, as they have to hear that song, they just have to. I can't imagine a song I could stomach better 74 times in a row than this.
Listen Ten: I'm suddenly reminded of that time I asked a boy out only because he looked like Meiburg. Blonde, flawless, God-like men aren't usually my type (I suffer from Mountain Man affliction where I can only date at lumberjacks) but this particular fella's uncanny resemblance to Meiburg made my heart skip a beat so I downed a couple shots and drunkenly slurred at him that we should hang out some time. In my head, he accepted this proposition, sang to me with a voice as eerily powerful as Meiburg's himself, and talked to me about birds until the sun rose as we sat in the arboretum. In reality, none of this even came close to happening. But I totally did have a one night stand once with a guy that looked suspiciously like Matt Berninger of the National, so I still win.
Listen Fourteen: I don't think I'm meaning to but with each listen of "Rooks", I've been concentrating on one element more than all the others, probably in an attempt to notice something about Shearwater other than Meiburg's voice, which I cannot possibly ever say enough good things about. This time, I've decided to isolate Thor's drumming in my brain. When you have a drummer named Thor, you expect him to be a total Nordic God behind the skins. While "Rooks" - and all of Rook, really - doesn't give Thor the opportunity to shine nearly as much as the band's latest, The Golden Archipelago, Thor remains Shearwater's backbone so to speak, his drumming consistently clean and precise and, when need be, remarkably powerful. I mean, plus, his name is Thor.
Listen Nineteen: I don't know if I've ever talked about my love of birds but man, I love birds. Meiburg loves birds too. This fact isn't only apparent in Shearwater's name, album art, or songs, but Meiburg is also an avid birder, having studied winged life in the far reaching corners of the world like Falkland Island and Tierra del Fuego. He's also somewhat of an expert at ornithology, the study of birds. Now, I don't love birds that much but I do like them more than the average person, having studied them myself in my own Midwest-tethered way via book and internet research and bird watching, which is probably the most conventionally "nerdy" habit I have. Given all this information, it's pretty obvious that nothing makes me more sad than the idea of birds dying and I, like many scientists, subscribe to the mentality that when birds start dying out, humans won't be far behind. That apocalyptic idea is precisely what Rook focuses on, mainly in "Rooks". Nowhere is this more evident than in the second verse: "The swallows fell from the eaves, and the gulls from the spires. The starlings, in millions, would feed on the ground where they lie. And the ambulance men said 'There's nowhere to flee for your life,' so we stay inside. We'll sleep until the world of man is paralyzed." Couple these affecting lyrics with Meiburg's soul shaking voice and you have a nightmarish gem of a track.
Listen Twenty-Six: It's dawning on me right this second that "Rooks" might be my favorite song ever.
Listen Twenty-Nine: It's also dawning on me that I'm gonna have to bump Shearwater up on my "Favorite Bands Of All Time" list.
Listen Thirty: I just noticed the lyrics "Each empty cage just rings in his heart like a bell." I think my heart just broke.
Listen Thirty-One: That bassline! Holy shit, that bassline! The only problem with being so taken aback by Meiburg as the driving force behind Shearwater is the fact that sometimes, it takes thirty-one straight listens to notice something like THAT BASSLINE!
Listen Thirty-Seven: Still not even a little sick of "Rooks" and now my night has devolved into looking at pictures of Meiburg! Sadly, this happens to me about once a week. I can't help it, okay, he's a total dreamboat!
Listen Forty-Four: Evert since noticing the lyrics I mentioned upon listen thirty, the crushing saddness of this song has really started to get to me. I suddenly feel dreadful for being a human and contributing to the destruction of the world that Meiburg's spent so much of his career writing about. Thankfully, I compost, recycle, and don't drive unless I have to for work so that makes me feel a little better about myself. But the world's still dying and I'm getting really sad, which I think means it's time for a drink.
Listen Fifty: I truly was hoping that as "Rooks" listen forty-nine closed out that "Leviathan Bound", the track following "Rooks" on Rook, would follow it. Sadly, that didn't happen. That also, I think, means it's time for another drink. As Abby Holmes pointed out on twitter, this isn't so much a 74-Play Challenge as it is a mash up of the 74-Play Challenge and RFC Drunk Reviews. The 74-Drink Challenge? Ugh, I hope not. My "drinking straight liquor out of beer bottles" phase is far (Read: Six months) behind me.
Listen Sixty: I remember how I surmised that listening to the same song repeatedly can make you feel high during my first 74-Play Challenge. Never has that surmisation been more true than now. I genuinely don't know where the past ten listens went. Time is passing strangely. I almost went upstairs to get my last slice of pizza before remembering that I already ate it... About fifteen minutes ago. That's something I should remember! Damn you, 74-Play Challenge. DAMN YOU.
Listen Sixty-Four: As always, I find it remarkable that it's almost over. The cinematic quality of Meiburg's lyrics, something that is never lost on me, is even more apparent now in my slightly weakened (and possibly drunken) mental state. When he sings of rooks being "burned in feathering piles", I can see it in my mind. When he talks of the falcons fleeing their cages, I can envision the look of heartbreak on the falconer's face when he discovers they've left him. It's remarkable. And it also reminds me slightly of the Saturday Night Live skit, The Falconer, only a really sad version of it that finds the titular falconer abandoned for good. This picture, perhaps, is the most crushing of all. That might have something to do with that "sort of high" feeling.
Listen Seventy-One: For some reason, it feels as though "Rooks" is about thirty seconds long. I realize it's about three minutes longer than that but the weird thing about "Rooks" is that before, it's dramaticisms and sense of grandeur made it feel aproximately five minutes long. The speed at which one listen passes and another one's ending is remarkable.
Listen Seventy-Four: ...Really? It's over? Really?
Well, apparently, I just listened to Jonathan Meiburg croon about birds for the past four hours of my life. And you know what I'm going to listen to next? Some more Shearwater. I think that means that "Rooks" gets a resounding...