Put aside for a moment that the getaway-car rush of guitars in the song you’re about to hear sounds familiar; soon enough, I’m going to argue that the resemblance of Shearwater’s “Pale Kings” to another arena-rock anthem is appropriate, perhaps even deliberate. But let that go for now, and just catch these lyrics:

You know how sometimes
You’re so tired of the country
You could run to the ocean
And surrender your life…?

This song has my attention right now…because I do want to run to the ocean. I do want to get away from it all, escape the endless headlines of struggle and strife, wash all of the politics out of my head, listen to the wind and the waves and start again.

And yet…well, look at the rest of the verse:

But in the same breath
A light burns through your dreaming
And blows holes in the ceiling
Till there’s nothing but sky

I can relate to this experience—this careening between despair and hope, anguish and inspiration. And I know I’m not alone in this whiplash life, this season of extremes, when prayers and praises sung on Sunday morning give way to campaign-season panic on Monday:

Run out
Like a ribbon unreeling
Head down and careering
Colors drained from your life

But listen
Just the sound of your breathing
Blows the cover of silence
Blows the cover of lies
With incendiary light

In this song from Shearwater’s new album Jet Plane and Oxbow, there is a strong, unifying thread of uniquely American contradiction: There are stories of characters who hide away behind wires with their guns and their fears. There are ugly portraits of a nation full of “disconnected lives,” crippled by a “dimmed conscience,” guarding itself with “fences like knives,” and having a tendency to “piss on the world below.”

And yet hope keeps breaking through—a vision of a better world, streams of fresh air through pollution, rays of starlight through darkness:

You know how sometimes
You’re so tired of the country
Its poptones and its pale kings
And its fences like knives

But in the same breath
Your heart breaks with the feeling
With love and with grieving
For its irrational life…

Yeah, I do know.

And so it seems perfectly appropriate to me that this song rides the same kind of high-speed guitar riff as U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name,” a song about how we keep on “building then burning down love”—and an appeal to that impulse that urges us to “reach out and touch the flame.”

[To continue reading this exploration of Shearwater’s Jet Plane and Oxbow, and its U2-ish ambitions, read the whole article at Christ & Pop Culture.]

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