Label: Matador Release date: 15/02/10 Website:MySpace l Amazon Try: 'Castaways' Okkervil River fans may be mistaken in thinking that ex-band member Jonathan Meiburg's side project Shearwater have an output in any ways similar to the narrative driven angst-folk which Will Sheff so expertly concocts. Both Meiburg and Sheff formed the band just over a decade ago; with the latter stepping down from his position in 2005. Since then it has been Meiburg's project alone, and as a biologist the direction and themes of the albums he treats us too are otherwordly to say the least. 2008's Rook was written in the Galápagos Islands and this year's follow up, beautifully titled The Golden Archipelago, is, thanks to Matador's synopsis, "the third album in a triptych of excursions about man's impact on the natural world". This theme is perfectly protrayed in the shifting of moods throughout the album, from opening lulling track "Meridian", to the celestial xylophone chimings of "Hidden Lakes" and the threatening, almost violent "Corridors", which somehow brings to mind images of waves crashing against these vulerable archipelgos: these beautiful tiny specks of golden in an ocean of black sea. It is such a juxtaposition that makes the album both honest in its message yet conversely proves to be its downfall in terms of album accessibility. Iydillic landscapes collide with those of danger, civilisation versus isolation and the discovered versus the undiscovered are all recurrent themes carefully channeled through music that encapsulates our striving to predict the often threatening behaviour that such beauty in nature must arguably counteract. It is an expertly recorded album with crystal clear production from John Congleton who worked with soundscape gods Explosions in the Sky on their most recent release All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone. The instrumentation is delicate and intricate to match the similarly paired vocals which at times find themselves to be troubador-esque, especially in the track "God Made Me", which being the most musically simplistic brings to mind something like Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair" in its initial opening. Like many concept albums for example OR's Black Sheep Boy or Joanna Newsom's Y's this album proves that it is the completeness of tracks and their collective meaning when taken as a whole that count as worthy as opposed to a mere single standout track. It is probably, for most, something listened to when in a very specific mood: the melodrama and bipolar tones becoming all a bit overwhelming if this is orally digested in a hurry. However when you do give it a spin you are whisked away to the most dreamlike, beautiful and threatening islands: A perfect piece of escapism. Photobucket