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New releases from Shearwater, Steven Wilson and Homme 

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click to enlarge Shearwater
  • Shearwater

Shearwater

Jet Plane and Oxbow

Sub Pop

File next to: Crooked Fingers, Okkervil River

Shearwater founder Jonathan Meiburg is an ornithologist and Pacific Ocean specialist, so it takes conscious effort for him to avoid grandiosity and over-intellectualizing. Unlike earlier albums that featured full-blown majestic movements, Jet Plane and Oxbow aims for more simplicity and emotion, with varying results. The electronics on "Prime" may suggest a Shearwater leaning to its traditional excess, but the Austin-based band mostly avoids that trap. Most of the 11 tracks here are more than five minutes long, lending the album an undeniable heft. Literary references abound in tracks like "Quiet Americans" and "Pale Kings," though the latter song is one of Shearwater's most exciting to date. Meiburg's placement of riff and rhythm in the forefront successfully keeps the album from drowning under its own weight, making it one of Shearwater's finest. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Steven Wilson
  • Steven Wilson

Steven Wilson

4 ½

Kscope

File next to: Opeth, Peter Gabriel

Steven Wilson is among the busiest musicians of the 21st century. Beyond his leadership of the now on-hiatus Porcupine Tree, he's recorded and/or toured as (or as part of) Blackfield, No-man, Bass Communion, Storm Corrosion and I.E.M. His remix work has improved on the already superb back catalogs of King Crimson, Caravan, Jethro Tull, Yes and XTC. Somehow he's found time for a solo career with four albums that demonstrate his facility at various genres (prog, jazz, metal), combined with the instincts of a top-notch pop songwriter. The 37-minute 4 ½ is billed as an EP, but deserves consideration as a full-fledged album. "My Book of Regrets" is as tuneful as anything he's ever written, and the other five tunes — including a remake of Porcupine Tree's "Don't Hate Me" — are showcases for Wilson's deft blend of melodicism, muscle and melancholy. — Bill Kopp

click to enlarge Homme
  • Homme

Homme

Homme

Foxhall Records

File next to: KT Tunstall, The Roches, Radiohead

Combining close vocal harmonies with electric guitars run through a Leslie speaker cabinet and various other effects, the experimental yet inviting sonic approach of Chicago duo Homme suggests an otherworldly combination of Nirvana and The Roches. Just when you think their self-titled debut is going to be some kind of artsy parlor-room act, swirling backward guitar and stomping bass and drums come crashing in, shattering the reverie. Homme's strategy is to lure listeners in with a fetching melody and arrangement, and then — at least some of the time — bludgeon them with unexpected rocking-out. Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart also combine cleverly edited vocalizations — check the bridge on "Fingerprints" — with alluring melodies. And apart from guest guitarist Jeff Parker on the track "Bully Clouds," they manage to do it all themselves. — Bill Kopp

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