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Shearwater - The Golden Archipelago


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We're going to need a thread for this one. Shearwater's latest comes out on February 23; I'm listening to it for the first time today, and I am immediately very impressed with it. These guys are making some of the most effortlessly beautiful, melodic, and epic music in all of indie rock, and this one seems to be very much on par with Rook.

Any other fans?

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I think one of my co-workers has this, and has been spinning it every now and then. I'll have to double-check with them.

I love the cover art.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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  • 4 weeks later...

It's streaming at NPR.

I'm on my second listen through. The first two tracks are incredibly haunting; the rest needs to sink in more. This is my first time with Shearwater. It's been a while since a band grabbed my ears so strongly on first listen.

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I've been listening to this pretty much non-stop since I got it. This is my first Shearwater album as well, and I'm pretty entranced by it right now. The first two tracks are exceptional, but I think my favorite song is "Hidden Lakes".

FWIW, it strikes me that Shearwater might be the true successors to Talk Talk's throne.

Edited by opus

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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Opus, your Talk Talk comment is dead on!

Okay, I'm convinced. I need to hear this. I thought Rook was good, not great. But comparisons with Talk Talk (and I assume this is Spirit of Eden/Laughingstock Talk Talk, right?) will surely get my attention. I greatly look forward to hearing the new album.

It's also worth noting that Shearwater's drummer is named Thor. This, in itself, is a wondrous thing. But he's also really good, and he's one of the principle reasons why Shearwater is a much better band than, say, Midlake, which employs a similar sonic approach.

Edited by Andy Whitman
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I have both Rook and Palo Santo; like Andy, I like but don't love them. I have REALLY liked the few tracks I've heard from the new album, though, so I'm probably going to pick this up at some point.

(And even if I'm not head over heels about this band, they're much more consistent and interesting (and consistently interesting) than Midlake.)

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Opus, your Talk Talk comment is dead on!

Okay, I'm convinced. I need to hear this. I thought Rook was good, not great. But comparisons with Talk Talk (and I assume this is Spirit of Eden/Laughingstock Talk Talk, right?) will surely get my attention. I greatly look forward to hearing the new album.

Yes, I was referring to Spirit of Eden/Laughingstock-era Talk Talk. I hear similarities in the vocals -- both Mark Hollis and Jonathan Meiburg display an amazing range, moving from soft, emotive moments to really belting it out (and still sounding as fragile as in the quieter moments). And also in the arrangements, which have a great amount of detail and nuance -- e.g., "Hidden Lakes" -- that definitely requires headphones for the full effect.

It's not the most obvious comparison, but to these ears, both bands are tapping into the same spirit and atmosphere.

I'm also impressed by Shearwater's sense of economy. The Golden Archipelago is certainly sweeping, epic, and all that, but only two tracks cross the four minute mark. I love grandiose, slow burning 15 minute post-rock songs as much as the next guy, but I appreciate that Shearwater's songs say all they need to say in such a relatively concise manner without ever feeling unnecessarily truncated.

Edited by opus

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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Responding to Andy: In some ways, I think Thor is the real all-star here. The percussion used on this album is endlessly inventive, to my ears-- it's not just the beats that are different on every track, but the actual instruments used.

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I need to listen more closely, but my initial thought is that this album will either be the one to beat for 2010 or Exhibit A on how to make pretentious music. I'm leaning toward the former interpretation. This is undeniably beautiful music. But listening to Jonathan Meiburg overemoting on "Castaways" reminds me somewhat of the yodeling chorus from The Sound of Music's "The Lonely Goatherd." That's an image I suspect he didn't want to conjure.

But I can hear the Talk Talk comparisons. I'm also reminded of Anathallo. And Thor is a stud on various percussion instruments. One thing is for certain: Shearwater went for it. This is as far removed from conventional "music product" as can be imagined. It's idiosyncratic and lovely and very, very big. Too big? I don't know yet. I need a few more listens to take it all in.

Edited by Andy Whitman
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Terrific album. This one deserves a lengthy review, but for now I'll simply state that Meiburg's periodic overemoting doesn't detract much from the overall impact, which is shimmeringly beautiful and constantly surprising. And this is very much an album, intended to be taken as a 38-minute whole. Thank God there are still a few of those around.

Edited by Andy Whitman
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I think it's interesting that you describe this as a "big" album, Andy. I don't think you're wrong about that, but it feels to me much more intimate, much less epic than Rook, which seemed to me like it had much more dramatic ebb and flow in terms of its dynamics.

I might like this one better, though.

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I think it's interesting that you describe this as a "big" album, Andy. I don't think you're wrong about that, but it feels to me much more intimate, much less epic than Rook, which seemed to me like it had much more dramatic ebb and flow in terms of its dynamics.

I might like this one better, though.

I mean “Big” in the sense of “Important,” or perhaps even "Self-Important." “Important” as in “Let’s make an 11-track concept album where the songs bleed into one another, suggesting one continuous suite.” “Important” as in the melodramatic Broadway belting that Meiburg brings to “Castaways.” “Important” as in “why use a normal drum kit when you can use tympanis and glockenspiels?”

The danger is that these conceits can push the music over the top. I don’t think they do in this case. But it’s close. It’s the difference between, say, Yes’s Tales From Topographic Oceans and Peter Gabriel’s Security. Both are busy, somewhat melodramatic, and perhaps self-important albums. The Yes album is completely over the top, while Gabriel strikes me as stopping just before hurtling over the precipice. I think Shearwater is more Gabriel than Yes. Good thing, too.

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I think I have Winged Life (2004), and used to like a song from it called "My Good Deed", which was close to Belle & Sebastian in style.

I also listened to Palo Santo which was different and more ambitious, but I didn't like it. Nonetheless, I give them another chance and pre-ordered the new one (along with the new Josh Rouse, out the same day over here, Feb. 23rd).

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