Friday, January 28, 2011

Shearwater-The Golden Archipelago

Outside of the metal world, it's difficult to find music that attempts to capture the beauty and mystery that is nature. Especially from a pop perspective, it seems that the closest some artists get is a half-hearted string ballad or cheesy nature sound effects. Jonathan Mieburg from Okkervil River acclaim aims to remedy that with his personal project Shearwater.

Permeating the Golden Archipelago is an atmosphere of mystique, though not in a dark and somber way you'd expect from a concept revolving around nature. Instead, Shearwater gives the listener a sense of wonder with their music, continually altering the ebb and flow of the album from quiet piano-based ballads with subtle instrumentation to driven pop numbers featuring bombastic drumming and odd guitar work. Throughout it all, Mieburg and his band of eclectic instrumentalists keep the transitions from becoming awkward, instead inspiring a sense of anticipation about where the music will turn next.

On paper, this mishmash of sounds may sound awkward and overwrought, but the Golden Archipelago has absolutely perfect pacing. At the end of each song, most of which just over three minutes in length, the quiet instruments have layered just enough and the structure has developed only just barely past the point to where one is left wishing Shearwater would repeat that beautiful arpeggiation just one more time, or that Mieburg would croon his subtle hook once more, but that's always when the song ends and the next adventure begins. This sense of tact and precise direction gives the impression that Shearwater have been at this for a very long time and know exactly what they're doing, a far cry from most indie bands today.

It's really that sense of balance that defines The Golden Archipelago. It's soft without becoming too dull, catchy without becoming trite, simple without forsaking its unique sense of creativity, and immediate without neglecting to add little details that pop out after repeated listens. Aside from all the technical details, Shearwater displays an impeccable skill to imbue their music with an undefined x-factor, a feeling of likability that makes the listener think "this is just really good." The Golden Archipelago is a wonderful, textured, rich, and all too short album, and Shearwater have shown that they're one of the genre's best acts, regardless of whether Pitchfork notices them or not.

Song: Hidden Lakes

This song exudes a Peter Gabriel-esque feeling, and showcases the mysterious, almost haunting nature of the album. The chord progression is gorgeous, and the addition of cello and bells as the song builds is subtle and fitting.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review! While I haven't really gotten into Shearwater, they did a great Randy Newman cover a few months ago on The A.V. Club:,48701/