Shearwater - The Golden Archipelago
The Golden Archipelago, the sixth album from Austin Texas band Shearwater is a sumptuous panorama of songs which ebb and flow like the ocean’s waves. The final chapter in a trilogy which began with Palo Santo (2006) and Rooks (2008), the album explores the effects of decay on both the environment and on ourselves. Band leader Jonathan Meiberg researched the album’s theme by camping out in various remote islands, including the Falklands, Tierro del Fuego and the Galapagos with the final result a stunning sonic and lyrical tour de force reminiscent of seminal 80’s Athens Georgia band Limbo District - who also combined the organic influence of the natural world into their own brand of experimental music.
The album opens with the anthem of Bikini Atoll, sung by Bikinians exiled on the islet of Kili ever since atomic tests left their homeland uninhabitable. This segues beautifully into the ghostly ‘Merridian’ about an air raid on an island garrison. The gentle music, reminiscent of lapping water, coupled with Meiberg’s gentle baritone belies the song’s dark tale.
Before you think the album is all Apocalyptic gloom, fear not. The subject matter may be a bit heavy but the lush textures of music mixed with Meiberg’s wonderful vocals make the The Golden Archipelago both epic and uplifting. ‘Black Eyes’ starts off with guitar feedback and staccato piano notes that feels like a siren call while Meiberg’s frantic vocals cry out like a warning: “In the black of the eye / in the heat of the act / there’s a crack in the ice”
Each song is like a visit to a different island. ‘Landscape At Speed’ is a look at the land from dizzying heights, while ‘Hidden Lakes’ is stark and eerie like a vast expanse of snow hiding the path ahead. The frenzied ‘Corridors’ heats things up with its jarring guitars and Meiberg’s furious vocals depicting the claustrophobic confines the title suggests. The majestic ‘God Made Me’ is like a door opening into a untouched expanse of snow-white sands. The songs starts off gentle and soft with an unexpected cacophony of strings towards the end, like huge waves crashing against the rocks.
The album continues to move at a frantic pace as each song explores various aspects of island existence. From the warm tropics of ‘Runners In The Sun’ and the isolated landscape of ‘Castaways’ to the lonely ‘Insular Life’, each song depicts different aspects of our own lives as we all struggle with the fear that our busy and hectic lifestyles will erode the very fabric of our existence - just as we are eroding the fabric of the earth.
The Golden Archipelago is an emotional journey filled with majestic grandeur and heart-wrenching beauty. Definitely a trip worth taking.