It's not exactly surprising that Shearwater vocalist Jonathan Meiburg moonlights as an ornithologist—after all, he thanks four birds by scientific name in the liner notes of Rook, the band's fifth full-length (also named for a bird and sporting a spooky, Hitchcock-inspired cover). Expanding the sonic palette employed on 2006's stellar Palo Santo, the album shows off Meiburg's exquisite ear for detail—no doubt honed in part through keeping field journals in exotic locales like the Galapagos Islands—working a plethora of sounds both delicate and violent into a deliciously dynamic and apocalyptic whole that' s part Talk Talk, part Charles Darwin. "Leviathan, Bound" bounces along swiftly on the baroque-flavored hammered dulcimer of multi-instrumentalist Thor Harris, while the bowed vibraphone and martial drums of "Lost Boys" perfectly complement Meiburg's lovely, lilting melody. It's Meiburg's voice that's the most expressive instrument on the record, however, floating delicately over the piano of opener "On the Death of the Waters" and roaring like a lion on the feverish rocker "Century Eyes," bringing to mind everyone from Antony to an artier, more talented Billy Joel in the process.
It's hard to believe a record this wonderfully exotic could have been recorded in little ol' Argyle, Texas—it's a lot easier to imagine the band holed up in some faraway lighthouse or the belly of Darwin's Beagle, bathed in crashing waves and starlight. But perhaps that's just a testament to the strange, boundless beauty of what might just be the record of the year.