Peter Gabriel, Scratch My Back (Virgin/Real World)
An orchestral, non-rock covers album by Peter Gabriel isn’t something many fans expected, even if the ol’ MC Sledgehammer has made another career out of a holding pattern rather than release material with regularity. Having his name dropped in a Vampire Weekend tune obviously inspired Gabriel to peek out of his spiderhole for a moment to see what the kids are up to. More likely, however, he let Pandora steer him toward an unsurprising set of downbeat songs by acclaimed indie bands— Arcade Fire (“My Body Is a Cage”), Bon Iver, (“Flume”), The Magnetic Fields (“The Book of Love”). Since the material is cynical and Gabriel’s instrumentation is maudlin, the result is suited for nightclub afterhours. Considering the classic tunes by legends such as Lou Reed, Talking Heads and David Bowie, we’re left with an intriguing if meager morsel to tide us over until a proper Gabriel album arrives—at this rate, sometime in 2025, after Chinese Democracy II.
Shearwater, The Golden Archipelago (Matador)
When birdwatcher and biogeography scholar Jonathan Meiburg isn’t scouting for rare avians or drawing maps, he’s at work constructing soaringly gorgeous indie-rock music with his Austin, Texas-based band Shearwater. What began as collaboration with Okkervil River’s Will Sheff 10 years ago is now entirely Meiburg’s vision. As difficult as it is to describe the unique sonic power of Shearwater (named after a long-winged seabird), there are touchstones—Richard Thompson’s vocal affectation and folk traditionalism, for one; Pink Floyd’s darkly progressive instincts, for another. Comparisons aside, what The Golden Archipelago achieves is so much grander and cinematic. The piano octaves that churn through “Black Eyes” will make you feel lashed to the prow of a warship en route to despoil an island, while the chiming guitar tones and driving bass of “Runners of the Sun” will entrance you like a bomb hitting the Bikini Atoll. Shearwater’s latest is hypnotic, apocalyptic and beautiful.