Originally a side-project outlet for 'quieter songs' than those suited to Okkervil River, main men Jonathan Meiburg and Will Sheff have produced a weighty and gloriously rich follow-up to the critically acclaimed Palo Santo. And 'quiet' isn't the most immediate description that comes to mind either. There is a sense of a common thread, though an actual concept is harder to pin down, it being full of dark inspiration drawn from the natural world: an earlier time before man exerted his crushing dominance perhaps. References to oxen trains, whaling, stars, hunting, countless birds and animals and forces of nature all tumble out. In this respect there's some symbiosis with the similarly Texas-based Midlake and their Trials Of Van Occupanther, but Rook is more epically baroque and hard-hitting, almost indie-operatic in ambition, and both less overtly melodic and instantly appealing. Pianos are more in evidence than guitars, and the pastoral prog is fleshed out with string quartet, plenty of woodwind, a harp, and trumpets.

A start of mild piano, double bass and switching between Meiburg's baritone and trembling higher pitched vocal is punctuated by a crashing assault of guitars and trumpet on the opener, before the calm after the literal storm returns - it is named 'On The Death Of The Waters' after all. All very cinematic. 'Rooks' (yes, plural: the album title is singular) has a driving wordless chorus embellished by wandering trumpet; 'Leviathan, Bound' has an even more pronounced epic quality fed by the building chiming of piano and hammer dulcimer; while "Home Life" has a swirling strings hook. Not until the sixth track are electric guitars let loose in the first conventional rock song: 'Century Eyes'. It's a punchy two minutes driven along by furious blacksmith percussion, that ends too soon as far as I'm concerned. Another highlight follows with the suitably floating and ethereal 'I Was A Cloud', where Meiburg's mid-register falsetto is again in evidence. It strains on several tracks and is not the easiest of voices to get along with, but after a couple of spins any personal unease had long gone. At other times and in lower keys, he is both forceful and soaring.Even the two and a half minutes of wordless metallic screeching (think deserted rusting wind pump) over a droning undertow that is 'South Col' seems somehow to have its place. That is an exception; elsewhere the dense lyrics and majestic arrangements dominate completely. 'The Snow Leopard' has crescendos and lumbering momentum that would seem to bring the album to a climactic close, but it is the delicate 'The Hunter's Star' that finishes with a rippling melody and a half-smiling lighter touch. It leaves me feeling like I now need to listen again while lying on my back in the grass on top of a hill somewhere.This album is a slow burner that feels far meatier than its sub 40 minutes: time set aside for full run-throughs is recommended if not essential. In that respect it competes with Tindersticks' latest as my favourite album so far this year in which to let go and immerse myself. It's got its talons into me and now I'm in a flap (see what I did there?). But seriously, this is pretty wondrous.88%[Download Shearwater Rook]LinksShearwater [official site] [myspace]