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Shearwater – The Golden Archipelago

Released on Matador Records, 3/23/10

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Jonathan Meiburg, lead singer and main songwriter of the band Shearwater, is a crooner. He somehow is able to embody the morose passion of Morrissey, the subtle charm of Elvis, and the theatrical bravado of Bowie with the smooth execution of a turntablist merely flipping a record, sliding a cross-fade and matching a beat.

Their latest in a triad of releases related to mans’ impact on nature, and assuredly nature’s trite retort to such folly, The Golden Archipelago, is immediately consuming if only due to the urgency that Meiburg’s voice commands.

Musically, the album sits under a blanket of uniformity. The homogeneous melancholy, a weary propellant from the opening track “Meridian,” begins with the start to the anthem of Bikini Atoll, sung by Bikinians forced off their terrain when nuclear testing left their land damaged and poisonous. The closing track, “Missing Islands,” is a solitary and eerie ballad that ends with such abruptness it almost dissolves into the air as the track counter ceases its movement.

If feel is the goal and solitude the aim, The Golden Archipelago has succeeded in achieving a general sense of necessity, concern, fury, defeat, and surrender. Almost in line with the stages of grieving — but where submission replaces acceptance — we are walked through the stages of Meiburg’s own struggle with the slow and tedious demise of the very lands we walk upon, the resources we pillage, and the very islands he, as a researcher, has camped upon, studied and labored to preserve.

The album has moments that peer above the dreary dawn, the force and assuredness of “Black Eyes” and “Castaways” remind me of the drive and transcendent dynamics present throughout the band’s previous release Rook. However, in its entirety The Golden Archipelago suffers from a uniform consistency that blankets the supposed peaks and valleys and masks the emotional anguish behind Meiburg’s plea. After awhile the listener loses the urgency, and as the last notes of the last track dissipate, it becomes difficult to recall the initial concern at all.