Shearwater | The Golden Archipelago
Most Likely To: wildly impress many, mildly annoy some.
The Golden Archipelago is Shearwater’s sixth full-length release, and its second since its Jonathan Meiburg left Okkervil River to give Shearwater his full attention. On the last two records, Palo Santo and Rook, Meiburg and his talented band began working on a grander scale, ending any chance someone would mistake their songs for an Okkervil River b-side – something which might have happened on the band’s earlier releases.
The Golden Archipelago is a concept record about islands, which examines them as isolated punctuation marks of obscurity and diversity. Meiburg is a new type of explorer; instead of going to plunder he’s uses music to bring ideas and stories from the ends of the earth back to his audience. As Darwin taught us, the isolation of islands fosters diversity within species. On The Golden Archipelago, there is much intersong diversity. Yet whether the songs are fast, slow, or punctuated with near-violent percussive interludes, they all, unmistakably, bear the mark of the species Shearwater.
The instrumentation is strong across the board, yet there is still the matter of Meiburg’s voice. His high-pitched trademark warble can be off-putting. Yet he doesn’t always sound like that. “Hidden Lakes” is classic Meiburg, but he also uses his voice in a variety ways that are more readily accessible. The vocals on “Runners of the Sun” offer Bryan Ferry-esque sophistication, while the near screams of “Corridors” are a welcome abrasive counterpoint to some of the album’s more languid tracks.
As much as Shearwater threatens to over-reach, there’s a generosity of spirit that keeps Meiburg and his band mates from being overcome by pretension. For example, they easily raised enough money at kickstarter.com to produce handmade dossiers as companion pieces to The Golden Archipelago at a cost of $30 each, yet they chose to make same dossier available for free download at their website. This kind-hearted act parallels the two very different ways to enjoy Shearwater: obsessive, completist for some and casual fan for others. Ultimately, the beauty of The Golden Archipelago is that the listener can take in its message or simply bask in the complexity that Shearwater has created.
Watch the video for “Hidden Lakes” below: