When the end of the world comes, as pollution lays waste to the Earth, Shearwater’s leader singer Jonathan Meiburg will be on a nuclear waste ravaged tropical island somewhere screaming bloody murder in his haunting baritone at the corporations and politicians.
On Shearwater’s latest album The Golden Archipelago we find environmentalist, bird watcher and former Okkervil River member Meiburg in training for such a moment. Billed as the third part in a loose trilogy of albums about nature from the folkish indie-rock outfit, this latest album takes in elements of both previous albums. The soft pastoral palette of debut Palo Santo and the epic quality of 2008’s Rook are both here.
Meiburg has certainly done his research, visiting a range of islands that have seen their fare share of environmental destruction, conflict and civil rights abuses.
From The Galapagos Islands, which are being devastated by illegal fishing, to the Falklands and Tierra del Fuego, Meiburg’s aim has been to tell the stories of these islands across the album. Meiburg’s grandfather serving in the Second World War in the south pacific adds further resonance to what is a compelling listen.
There’s a lot to get angry about for Meiburg as well. Take opener ‘Meridian’ for example, which features singing from residents of Bikini Atoll, who are now in exile on the island of Kili after atomic testing made their home uninhabitable. This is an atrocity that rarely gets the media attention it deserves.
While musically still quite measured on ‘Meridian’, next track ‘Black Eyes’ is a far more angrier proposition, where Meiburg’s soft baritone turns to a screams as he sings of the ruined South Pacific city of Nan Madol, which has been uninhabited for 500 years.
Among other highlights is ‘Hidden Lakes’, which is reminiscent of Rook’s wintery tracks such as ‘Snow Leopard’ and ‘Hunter’s Star’. ‘Corridors’ is another high point. Although not about one specific island, Meiburg tells Drowned in Sound that it is about how islands can literally and metaphorically be a prison. It’s the centrepiece track on a mesmerising album.
Few other artists spend as much time researching an album and creating such a value for money product, especially for those who buy the CD version, which includes a 50-page booklet about Meiburg’s travels. As good as Rook, if not better, Golden Archipelago shows that Shearwater is truly one of the most interesting bands around at the moment.
by Joe Lepper