Review : Shearwater - The Golden Archipelago
PitchforkSome claim albums as a format are dying out, and I keep refusing to believe it. I don't think economics or the slipperiness of mp3s will save it, so much as musicians who like the format will. It lets them say something a single track often can't, and it's hard to figure a better way to capture a snapshot of where a band is in its creative life. Based on The Golden Archipelago, Shearwater are perfectly served by the medium. The record has just a couple of tracks that would be especially striking outside of their context on the LP, and nothing on the level of the huge highs of 2008's Rook, "Snow Leopard" and "Rooks". But it's still thoroughly captivating and confident-- and one of the best recent examples of effective sequencing.
The placement of every song is so precise that it almost sounds as though they were recorded in order. The listener feels an impeccable sense of balance as the album's loudest guitars follow its quietest whisper of a song during the transition from "Hidden Lake" to "Corridors". "Castaways" is deliberate and mannered and achieves the sort of restrained grandiosity that distinguishes Shearwater from nearly everyone else-- it carries you to a peak, and the song that follows gently carries you away from it as it bobs in on a swaying, natural beat. The album's first three songs feel almost like a suite. Hovering over all the perfect transitions is songwriter Jonathan Meiburg's loose unifying theme, islands. That seems simple enough for a concept, but it's a natural extension of Meiburg's fellowship work studying daily life in remote communities, as well as his well-documented interest in ornithology and academic work focusing on migration patterns....full text
Pastemagazinescene in which the main character drives alone through the rain, pondering his weighty problems, Shearwater frontman Jonathan Meiburg emotes in a velvety bellow while pianos clatter and echo, and guitars peek through the shadows, making for gorgeous, endlessly serious music. The Golden Archipelago, Shearwater’s sixth release, sticks with the plot.
But whereas the ethereal solemnity of its previous album, Rook, was manifest in memorable hooks, the 37-minute Archipelago meanders through its own foggy-graveyard atmospherics. The music is similarly beautiful, but uniformly so—the 11 songs bleed together in such a way that you’ll listen through twice before realizing the album began again. Archipelago is an argument against verse-chorus-verse structure, and a good one—a rewarding, slow-melting album for patient listeners....full text
BbcBuoyed by Jonathan Meiburg’s tremulous vocals and constantly in thrall to the natural world, Shearwater’s music is a rich, suggestive thing. Probing appreciation of our environment has manifested itself across their discography; most recently on 2008’s excellent Rook, which masterfully evoked all manner of avian concerns (principally, that of flight itself). The Golden Archipelago is the third in a loose trilogy also comprising 2006’s Palo Santo, and finds Meiburg broadly contemplating life on remote islands, many of which he’s actually visited.
Numerous acts have plied similar waters in recent years (fine offerings from Bowerbirds, Midlake and Andrew Bird spring to mind), but with The Golden Archipelago, Shearwater really go for broke – a limited run of Meiburg-assembled ‘dossiers’ were even made available, illuminating its central themes via his studies. These themes constitute far more than just a jumping-off point for the group: they’re intrinsic to the record as a whole. Indeed, it’s not the band that greet you upon first listen, but the defiant strains of Bikini Atoll’s national anthem, sung by exiled Bikinians on their adopted isle of Kili.
The band enters with the bare, lilting swell of Meridian. Meiburg’s vocals lapse into such aching falsetto that he could literally be singing the Idiot’s Guide to Value Investing and you’d still root for him; that he’s relaying a tale informed by his grandfather’s wartime experiences in the South Pacific makes it all the more poignant. In contrast, Black Eyes is a jarring, serrated affair, which sees him hollering his lyrics over a magnificent racket. When they want to be – like on the dissonant swirl of Corridors, or the climactic breaks of God Made Me – Shearwater are an exceptionally noisy band, propelled by a staggering range of percussive elements courtesy of drummer Thor Harris. For the most part, however, they revel in dreamy, capacious arrangements (Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden is a long-cited touchstone), and The Golden Archipelago eases into a leisurely second half before bowing out with Missing Islands, where Meiburg’s vocals take the spotlight against plaintive ivories to show-stopping effect....full text
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