Jonathan Meiburg has been recording ambitious, often sad music with his band Shearwater for 20 years. “The Great Awakening” is no exception – and is reminiscent of an art pop milestone.

Jonathan Meiburg is a virtuoso singer – but not for everyone’s taste. The front man of the American art pop band Shearwater prefers to have a crystal-clear head voice.

And as with Mark Hollis, the singer of the stylistically related Talk Talk, who died in 2019 at the age of 64, you have to get involved. If you do that, you’ll be handsomely rewarded with the new Shearwater album, The Great Awakening. Because the eleven songs are of captivating, mostly quiet beauty, and Meiburg’s falsetto can move you to tears.

A melancholy journey

These pieces, which were born out of sadness, seem like little prayers: after the dramatic predecessor to the album “Jet Plane And Oxbow” (2016) and during the gloomy Trump years, Meiburg was doing badly. “I felt hopeless,” says the 46-year-old from Baltimore. “And I didn’t want to make hopeless music.”

The passionate bird researcher Meiburg therefore distanced himself from Shearwater. He intensively studied David Bowie’s famous Berlin trilogy (“Low”, “Heroes”, “Lodger”), released instrumental albums and formed a new band (Loma) with Texan producer Dan Duszynski and singer Emily Cross. After two Loma albums that drew Brian Eno to the scene as an admirer, the singer and multi-instrumentalist returned to his regular band in 2020.

With its reduced production and chamber music arrangements, «The Great Awakening» is actually reminiscent of «Spirit Of Eden», Talk Talk’s masterpiece. “Milkweed”, for example, with a menacingly approaching rhythm, an echoing piano and partly atonal strings, is of a very similar radicality – as is the magnificent ballad “Aqaba” or the almost eight-minute “There Goes The Sun”.

Does Jonathan Meiburg now have hope again? You can only hear it to a limited extent on this subdued, melancholic album and its masterfully used high voice. But “The Great Awakening” is always impressive in its sadness.