The question facing Shearwater upon the release of the third in a trilogy of albums is how to follow up, in Rook, what has quietly become somewhat of a defining work. The Golden Archipelago has much in common with it's predecessors Palo Alto and Rook both thematically and musically but an added muscle has been added to provide steel upon which to construct the yearning fragility that has now become their calling card.'Meridan' is a tremulous tender opener akin to 'On The Death Of The Water' but the record really gets going with the shuddering percussive piano call and response that opens Black Eyes, which is soon joined by a Shearwater rhythm section that sounds more powerful that ever before. The drums and percussion of Thor Harris is a feature of the album, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the hypnotic onomatopoeic hat hat intro to 'Landscape at Speed' which is coupled with shimmering guitar lines that hint at a sinister turn. Meiburg's vocals are content to take a back seat and let his words get swallowed up by the encroaching ebb and flow of the music.'Hidden Lakes' is the kind of stately piano waltz that is a near perfect distillation of what Shearwater do so well, Meiburg soars without resorting to melodrama and soon the piano is joined by mechanical clockwork percussion that attempts to drag the whole thing into a dizzying yearning whirlpool. What is so impressive here is that while the band always have complete control yet the track is constantly on the point of tipping over into who knows what, which makes for a listening experience that is not only evocative but enthralling.After such beauty 'Corridors' is somewhat of a misfire, a jolt of breakneck guitar riffing charges along with Meiburg wailing atop galloping drums and after the delicate start to the record this sudden switch is just too drastic a change to work properly in the context of the album.Perhaps the most heartbreakingly brilliant track on the whole record is 'Runners of The Sun'; a chiming beauty propelled by Kim Burke's upright bass that drops away for strings that would be among the most gorgeous on Scott 4 before being drawn to a close of mournful reverberating piano chords. It is a remarkable close to the song and showcases a band who are truly at the top of their game.While production has never been a weakness on previous records, moments such as when the sweeping strings of 'God Made Me' give way to an avalanche of roaring guitar chords, there is a power present that adds musical substance to a thought provoking and beautiful record. A record that asks many questions about evolution, God and ecology and this greater breadth of sound matches the breadth of ideas on display; simply put The Golden Archipelago is a crowning achievement by a genuinely underrated band.RECOMMENDED

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