Shearwater The Golden Archipelago
ShearwaterThe Golden Archipelago (Matador)
Delivered as the third wave of Shearwater's island opus, a harrowing portent of human and environmental devastation spanning 2006's Palo Santo and Rook two years later, The Golden Archipelago presents a direly meditative culmination. While Rook provided the torrential climax, apocalyptic in vision and shuddering in sound as Jonathan Meiburg's intimidating, virtuosic vocals met a leveling equality in the band's tumultuous arrangements, Archipelago serves as denouement and oblivion-rent postscript. The distant, displaced native choir that opens the album singing Bikini Atoll's national anthem in "Meridian" fades into a disarmingly delicate wash of atomic peril, a tenuously calm moment suspended in anticipation, that breaks against the terror-trembled desolation of "Black Eyes." While the surging squall of "Corridors" tempests a similarly rancorous fury in feedback, Archipelago's true power moors in the extreme precision of its subtler moments – the beautiful fragility of "Hidden Lakes" and string-soothed isolation of "God Made Me," the song's sudden rudderless pivot of anxiety quelled in Meiburg's impeccably controlled range. The lighter rhythmic pulse pushed to the fore on "Landscape at Speed" and "An Insular Life" adds balance to the elegant, encompassing intensity of the band's pull, but it's still the epic sweep of "Castaways" and "Uniforms" that captures Shearwater at its best. The former builds to dramatic flourish while the latter operatically pilots through crests and falls, both fraught with the tension of a world unnaturally ravaged and eroding in the haunting wake of inhumanity. The closing lines of "Uniforms" encapsulate this awful solitude and dreaded realization in its final plea: "Hurl your empire's crown/Back in the heart/Of the waves/Relay relay the unquenchable song through the wire/Where your horses alight/On the shores of our lives/The world blooms for the last time."