20 Watts

20 Watts Reviews Shearwater’s The Golden Archipelago by Marc Sollinger

Shearwater creates breathtaking music on The Golden Archipelago

PREVIEW: VISIT Shearwater’s MySpace
WE GIVE IT: 14/20 Watts

Shearwater’s sixth album, The Golden Archipelago, takes time to fully appreciate. On first listen, the album seems merely pleasant with its dense, delicate melodies washing over the listener. It’s enjoyable, but not breathtaking.  However, upon repeated listens, the album opens up. It becomes otherworldly, or perhaps more appropriately–worldly. Although not all of its lyrics are directly related to the environment, The Golden Archipelago is deeply connected to nature in a way no other album has been since Neko Case’s The Middle Cyclone.

It accomplishes this none-too-easy task through Shearwater’s masterful blending of ethereal folk, propulsive indie rock and lead singer Jonathan Meiburg’s operatic vocals. Admittedly, these high and airy vocals do take some getting used to, but they suit the music’s blend of fragility and propulsion perfectly, and after a couple listens they grow on the listener. The best showcase for this–as well as the album’s sumptuous arrangements–is “Hidden Lakes,” one of the album’s finest songs. Like most of the other tracks on The Golden Archipelago, “Hidden Lakes” is subtle, yet multi-faceted, offering up something new after each listen. The rest of the album’s songs are equally great, although best experienced together, as a full album, with each song bleeding into the next.

On The Golden Archipelago, Shearwater doesn’t overpower the listener with needless crescendos, sweeping choruses or excessive orchestral flourishes. Still, the album flirts with being epic. It has a wonderfully grand quality to it, as if the listener was hearing the album in the middle of a forest or on top of a mountain–somewhere surrounded by nature. Albums are called transcendent far too often these days, but The Golden Archipelago very well has a shot at being just that.

–Marc Sollinger

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