Two years after releasing the masterful “Rook,” Shearwater returns with another truly beautiful album. “The Golden Archipelago” continues Shearwater’s journey into redefining modern folk.
Everything about Shearwater is peaceful. The band’s name is taken from a majestic water bird native to Arctic regions which migrates to the waters of Brazil and Argentina in the winter.
The band’s last few albums, “Rook,” “Palo Santo” and “Winged Life” all conjure beautiful majestic images of nature. Overall, Shearwater has catered their music to the natural placid images that they advertise; their sound on “The Golden Archipelago” is no different.
The album starts off with “Meridian.” The song feels like the beginning of a mystic sea journey to the titular Golden Archipelago. While the song is a gentle lead in to a superb album, it lacks the power of the band’s entry into its last two albums.
In both “On the Death of the Waters” and “La Dame et la Licorne,” the opening tracks for “Rook” and “Palo Santo,” respectively, Shearwater surprises the listener with a gentle entry then explodes into lush, loud moments before gently descending back down; this time it just sails in steadily.
While I understand Shearwater’s rationale of doing something different, the song doesn’t feel like an opener despite being great on its own.
You don’t have to look far for the appropriate opener. The next track, “Black Eyes,” constantly builds until it comes to an abrupt stop. A personal favorite of mine, “Black Eyes,” evokes all of what Shearwater has been and displays their talent by moving listeners on both quiet and loud levels.
While they can move me, they hardly ever surprise me. I know I complain about originality all of the time, but it is definitely important to me. Yes, it is quite an accomplishment to be really good in a specific genre, but you never know what will happen when you try something completely different.
Yes, Radiohead’s “Pablo Honey” and The Flaming Lips’ “Transmission from the Satellite Heart” were great albums, but it wasn’t until both bands looked to other genres of music that they released their respective giants “OK Computer” and “The Soft Bulletin.” Within “The Golden Archipelago,” Shearwater does flirt with a different sound on “Corridors,” but it isn’t anything too risky. That being said, Shearwater is really good at what they do and I will give them some credit on originality. This band, a side project of a few members of Okkervil River, has really come into its own.
While Shearwater and Okkervil River are similar in some ways, they have gone in completely different directions. Shearwater’s more melodic folk, with heavy influences from post-rock and alternative, encapsulates beauty like Okkervil River’s more traditional Americana/alt–country folk could never do; however, in my opinion, Okkervil River is also more fun to listen to.
Overall, “The Golden Archipelago” is another grand entry into Shearwater’s impressive career.
While nothing is really different, nothing is missing either. If you are a Shearwater fan, you’ll like this album, maybe even love it. Just don’t expect anything different from previous efforts.