Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago

This is an exceptionally and sumptuously beautiful album, a worthy successor to the previous album Rooks and the last of the very loose trilogy of Shearwater albums started with Palo Santo.

Built around island issues, the maritime theme is in balance with previous sets in pursuing the theme of nature, environment and so forth but the mawkishness that often besets such efforts. Indeed the island theme isn’t just a tacked on device, these songs resulting from a series of trips to remote islands along with the limited edition ‘dossiers’ produced by Jonathon Meiburg that illustrate and illuminate the journey. The dossier couldn’t be produced by the record label so the band invited fans to sign up for copies and fund the limited run of production ( I await my copy with anticipation!) – a mini and cut down version is included with the CD.
Opening to the strains of the disenfranchised inhabitants of Bikini Atoll singing their national anthem from their adopted home of Kili, the album moves from the lilting and lyrical such as Hidden Lakes, to the harsher and (relatively) abrasive such as Corridors. The whole affair lasts a scant forty minutes but it is a period of unfailing success, a tour de force, woven through with Meiburg’s affecting falsetto vocals.
Such vocals can be tiring and despite his lyrics being hard to decipher (thanks however for the lyric sheet) the vocal results in becoming an additional instrument. The whole set is like a tone poem rather than a collection of songs, each shifting into the other, little in terms of standard song structures and hardly a singalong album. But even without understanding it all on first (or subsequent) listens, the passion and integrity bursts through raising the whole above the usual, the hallmark of a special set of music.
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