Recording information: Glacial Pace, Portland; Good Danny's, Austin; Magic Closet, Portland; North Side, Los Angeles; Public Hi-Fi, Austin; Type Foundry, Portland.
The ninth studio LP from the Austin-based outfit, and their second outing for Sub Pop, Jet Plane and Oxbow feels like a culmination of sorts; a rigged explosion in a mountain crevice meant to link past and future. It would be easy to dismiss Shearwater's nod to '80s sonic excess as opportunistic, not to mention a little bit late to the party, if it weren't so consistently compelling and undeniably grand. Opting for the big studio craftsmanship of artists like Tears for Fears, Talk Talk, and Peter Gabriel over the treacly, vintage synth-fueled dance-pop that's been at the forefront of the current '80s revival, Jet Plane and Oxbow effectively expands the sonic territories explored on 2012's like-minded but less immediate Animal Joy. Politically charged and unabashedly melodramatic, the 11-track set, lent extra cinematic scope by contributions from film composer and percussionist Brian Reitzell, is as punitive as it is empowering, with frontman Jonathan Meiburg, whose voice has never sounded so commanding, reckoning with the dizzying political and social dualities of being an American in the capricious second decade of the 21st century. Coming in at just over 50 minutes, it's the band's most streamlined collection of music since 2008's career-defining Rook, and their most vital offering to date, with highlights arriving via the rolling, Krautrock-inspired "Radio Silence" (not a cover of the era-appropriate Thomas Dolby song of the same name), the elegiac "Pale Kings," and the fiery, future live staple "A Long Time Away." "Prime" and "Quiet Americans," the former a bucolic/violent blast of slow burn art-rock and the latter a propulsive, synth- and electronic drum-led call to arms that asks, without the slightest bit or irony, "And whither the Americans?," impress as well, but the truth is that Jet Plane and Oxbow, like the band itself, which has been consistently hitting the pavement and cranking out high-quality products for nearly 15 years, never really lets up. ~ James Christopher Monger
Rolling Stone - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "Songs like 'Pale Kings' put Meiburg's distinctive voice at the forefront, where it belongs, but back it with racing-heart drums that open up into expansive acoustic guitar-backed verses and choruses, allowing a catharsis that's rare in his often careful music."