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 What the Island Arc means to you... 
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Joined: 16 Jan 2011 22:49
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Location: Detroit, MI, USA
Well, as we begin the long wait for the new album, I've been thinking a lot about the last three albums - three albums I've listened to as much as any others I encountered after my formative years. They've come to mean a lot to me, and I'm curious how others feel about them.

As a trilogy, the albums don't fit that closely with one another, and that's key to their vitality. There are certain similarities in tracklisting (and some clever expectations-jiujitsu, like, after the Lady and the Unicorn-reminiscent piano and vocal in "On the Death of the Waters", the wave crashes down). But they don't feel like the same recycled template three times.

I find that the language of Palo Santo feels rather biblical (OK, maybe King James) in ways, or at least Shakespearian. ("Pearls of eyes," a recurrent image, being a reference to The Tempest, perhaps filtered through The Waste Land.)

Rook feels like a dark Germanic or eastern European fairy-tale cycle (with a significant dash of - don't laugh - cosmic horror thrown in).

And The Golden Archipelago feels like a great documentary - very evocative language, but describing more directly the world we know.

I've written up impressions and thoughts on each of the albums, but to reduce verbal spew I'll parcel them out over the life of the thread, whatever that may be.


01 Feb 2011 00:33
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Joined: 09 Nov 2008 13:14
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Hm, well they are, both personally for me as well as for the band, the entire mature-life of Shearwater.. It's sort of hard to imagine Shearwater in any other form (even with the lingering relics of the Sheff-era), so I'm really intrigued what could follow such an epic (and I do believe the word applies here) trilogy.

I'd say your summation of the atmospheres they evoke are spot-on! After hearing Palo Santo while still a SW noob, I bought Rook on a whim, and at the time what I considered a bit of a gamble because I couldn't imagine how a band could follow up on such a beautiful and captivating album. But we all know how that turned out...

So I guess, for me, it simply defines Shearwater. Even though they are so much more complex and diverse.


01 Feb 2011 12:50
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Joined: 16 Jan 2011 22:49
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Palo Santo
I was pleased to read in Drowned in Sound's wonderful interview that Palo Santo was composed the way it sounds: incidents from Nico's life formed a scaffolding that was removed and uncommented on once the album was complete. To the album's great credit, I didn't really believe the Nico backstory for a long time, and I don't think about it most of the time. But it provides a meaningful context for some things.

La Dame et La Licorne has always struck me as a medieval European scene, which either means I'm terribly suggestible from titles or there is meaning to the title. (Funnily, the tapestry is on the front of the menu at the Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse in Austin, but I'll chalk that up to coincidence.)

Red Sea Black Sea must be a bombing raid - I began to suspect JM of harboring a thing for atomic imagery here, though I've changed my mind about this song.

Johnny Viola was an early favorite, but the title confused me. It took me forever to realize that the title was a reference to John Cale - bizarre, given that I'm a fervent Cale fan. That realization made the Nico backstory much more believable.

The three murky, quiet songs (Palo Santo, Sing Little Birdie, and Nobody) should not work so well clustered together. In early listening, I found them distracting from the epics around them, but they've come to be just as important to me. The nod to Pink Floyd's "If" in Sing Little Birdie, for reasons I don't understand, made me slightly dismiss the song, until I realized how serious the lyrics were.

I have no idea what Hail, Mary is about or how it connects to the Nico mythos, but two lyrics hit me hard in early listening and have never let go: "Hail, Mary, sick and proud and holding aloft a light that will burn through a heaving night and lead us upon the rocks." and "God save the chamberlain, and God save his appointed successor, but God saved his hardest face for you and all of your kind..." I can't exactly explain what I get out of them... but I prefer it that way.


01 Feb 2011 22:23
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Joined: 04 Jun 2008 23:37
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Though I have enjoyed all three albums--I was compelled to explore The Golden Archipelago and its Dossier in a series of blog entries where I followed the threads of each song, and apparent reference because I wanted deeper understanding of the work.

For those who might be interested, the first entry is here http://jdcalkins2001.wordpress.com/2010/03/12/exploring-the-golden-archipelago-explanation-motivations-disclaimer-and-confession/.

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04 Feb 2011 00:36
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Joined: 16 Jan 2011 22:49
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jdc4 wrote:
Though I have enjoyed all three albums--I was compelled to explore The Golden Archipelago and its Dossier in a series of blog entries where I followed the threads of each song, and apparent reference because I wanted deeper understanding of the work.

Very cool! In just a few glances, it seems that you've looked into many of the things that I hadn't gotten around to yet. I'll read through them more closely now.

Here are my thoughts on...

Rook
is still my favorite Shearwater album, and quite possibly my favorite album of the decade. I got it soon after release, listened to it three or four times, and more or less shelved it. It wasn't until January of 2009 that something spurred me to get it out again. Listening to it in the frigid wasteland of the Great Lakes, it clicked with me, and did it ever. (You know, for a band from Austin, whose principals don't seem to be from cold places, they sure made some great winter records with PS and Rook!)

The album to me is, frankly, rather terrifying. I'm not a big horror fan in any medium, but I especially don't often listen to music that I would describe as "cosmic horror." Rook is made of yawning gulfs, terrible wasteland, endless cold oceans. I don't get the feeling that most of the protagonists are strictly human - the metaphor of "the succoring vine" and the repeated references to "your kind" (cf. Hail Mary) make me wonder.

Rooks definitely seems to be about people. (My favorite song about bird flu, definitely. ;) I can't listen to I Was a Cloud or Leviathan, Bound without thinking of Jonathan's background to them at the Tiny Desk Concert. I think there's more to them than those anecdotes, but they form my base conceptions of the scenes.

But it's the more mysterious songs - ...Waters, Home Life, Lost Boys, Century Eyes - that push my imagination into overdrive. Home Life and Lost Boys make me think of World War I to a certain extent, but... "not the pinpricks of starlight but to bathe in the bright blood of the world above?" At the very least, there is a whiff of the atomic to that.

(As an aside, I found some old interview where Jonathan was asked point blank about the meaning of Lost Boys. The answer was perfect: "There are these people... John, I don't want to tell you what that song is about." Hear hear!)

I convinced myself a while ago that The Hunter's Star (Betelgeuse? Rigel? or the hunter's dog's star Sirius?) might not necessarily be observed from earth. Perhaps we're just talking about total sterility upon the earth, though. A bit prosaic, but it will do. I love the happy, pretty music to such a bleak song.

Like Palo Santo, the album has a coherent and self-referential vocabulary that really enriches it.


04 Feb 2011 21:25
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Some of the best albums I've ever heard. I blindly purchased the Palo Santo Cd in a store, and I've been hooked ever since. This was one of the first (non-local) bands I saw more than once in a year, and both Rook and Golden Archipelago were my favorite albums for their respective years.
I also think I can credit them with renewing my interest in nature, which, while there before, had weakened. I now want to be an environmental scientist. While not the only influence on my decision, to be quite honest, Shearwater definitely helped change my view of the world.
Not often you can say that about a band, huh?

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05 Feb 2011 13:45
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Joined: 16 Jan 2011 22:49
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The Golden Archipelago
has been much discussed around here. Despite the rather depressing subject matter, it does makes me long for an insular life. For an album about destroying Eden, it's surprisingly positive-sounding.

Maybe somebody can explain "burning carousel" from Corridors to me? I get the grinding, mechanical repetition of torture ("till the horses tire"), but is there more to the image than that?

Hidden Lakes is the lone wintry song on this album, I think. I'm not sure at all how it fits with the album's themes, but I'm very glad it's there.

Runners of the Sun might be my favorite track. Hearing it live was awesome.

An Insular Life makes me think of the ending of Gravity's Rainbow (hopefully not a spoiler). "Oh lights upon the floor, let the audience rise. Let them file through the halls still assured in their lives. Untll the sky shudders open impossibly wide and the room glows in the sudden light and they are gone."

The three missing islands of this archipelago - Anak Rekata, The Silver Bodies, and False Sentinel - are all awesome tracks. What's funny is that they seem to follow the function of the quiet songs of Palo Santo, but I can't find anywhere in the tracklisting for any of them that feels organic. It's a shame, but I guess that means the tracklisting is what it needed to be.


11 Feb 2011 04:36
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