Album Review: Shearwater ‘The Golden Archipelago’

‘The Golden Archipelago’, Texan outfit Shearwater’s sixth full-length effort, due February 23rd, is a difficult album to review. It opens with a choir of islanders singing the national anthem of Bikini Atoll, and straight away you know you’re not in for a normal record.

Appreciation for the environment around us has dominated Shearwater’s recent works, most notably in 2008 release ‘Rook’ which was centered around the concept of flight. ‘The Golden Archipelago’, then, is loosely based around the concept of starting a new life on a remote island somewhere.

It somehow surrounds you with a place you have never been to and probably will never go to, and makes it feel like home.

I was first introduced to Shearwater through their association with Okkervil River, one of my older indie favourites. However since then they have grown into an incredible band in their own right. Indeed members have been forced to make a choice between Okkervil River and Shearwater, which saw Will Sheff focus all his efforts on the former and Jonathan Meiburg the latter.

Meiburg’s vulnerable vocals are simply sublime in ‘The Golden Archipelago’. His falsetto welcomes you warmly into the strange island world on opener Meridian, which is a delicate and enchanting song. Meiburg’s remarkable vocal range is shown throughout the record, especially on the much more forceful Black Eyes, which could have come straight out of the songwriting book of Spencer Krug.

God Made Me somehow evokes floating on an endless ocean in a way similar to the album’s magnificent coverart, and Castaways is quiet simply a beautiful song, building slowly around Meiburg’s typically great vocals.

Like I said however, this is a difficult album to review. There are no complete standout tracks, unlike ‘Rooks’ where closer The Hunter’s Star immediately jumped out at me. It is an album that simply demands to be listened to from start to finish, and it rewards you for doing so with a lush, unexplored world.

It is a record of unmistakable beauty, and it is a record that defies any arbitrary ratings system. It transports you to another world, and you won’t want you leave. It would be completely unique, if Shearwater hadn’t been doing this exact same thing for the last ten years.

Any music that can make you appreciate the beauty in this world is a beautiful thing in itself, and that is exactly what you have in ‘The Golden Archipelago’.

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