Float on Shearwater’s “Golden Archipelago”
Before this album, I was struggling with a feeling of musical stagnancy. My interest was waning in the groups I was currently into, and I strived to find something new, something different. Then I was blessed to have Shearwater’s new album, The Golden Archipelago, fell into my lap. If I were to attempt to cram this album into a one-word description, I am almost positive it would be “beautiful.” Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, allow me to paint you a picture.
The Golden Archipelago is the ultimate in a hat trick of complexly and masterfully interwoven albums by Shearwater. Following 2006’s Palo Santo and 2008’s Rook, this album continues with a theme of environmentalism and man’s impact on the earth. More specifically, The Golden Archipelago focuses on life on small islands around the world. In fact, a specific island inspires each song.
Shearwater’s singer Jonathan Meiburg spent several months camping around the world at various island communities to get first-hand inspiration for the album. As cool and deep as that is, there are surely some audiophiles out there only concerned with the aural experience. To them I say, “You, my friend, are in for a treat.”
The best comparison I can make for this album is to match it to ocean waves. At some points, like the premier track “Meridian” and the concluding tune “Missing Islands,” the album is as calm as could be. Then there are songs such as “Black Eyes” and “Castaways” where the music comes crashing down on you like a 40-foot wave.
The album as a whole shows great contrast amongst the songs, but this is achieved without losing the connectivity between them. “Landscape at Speed” offers juicy drum beats, “Hidden Lakes” provides smooth piano and “God Made Me” incorporates sweet acoustic guitar, but these opposing songs are sewn together by the ever-somber voice of Meiburg. It is not dullness or bareness in his voice, but rather it is seriousness, as if in response to the majesty of the places that inspired the album. It is a voice that will lull you into a trance and woo you into lingering on it all day.
In addition to the lovely music of The Golden Archipelago, Meiburg worked with designer Mark Ohe to produce a limited edition collection of documents and pictures to correspond with the album that they have entitled The Golden Dossier. Unfortunately, sales for the dossier are over. There are some sample pages online that I highly recommend perusing (link below). The amount of work put into this album is simply breathtaking. After hearing the album, though, you would not need me to tell you that. Despite just being a month and a half into things, I can safely say that this is the best album I have heard all year.