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The Golden Archipelago

Shearwater
(MATADOR)

How can you not sympathize with Jonathan Meiburg and his bandmates? Twenty months ago, they delivered an indisputable gem with Rook, which made the perfect case for their nature-based, progressive folk-rock. The songs stood by themselves but fit together in curious, compelling structure. This follow-up has many of the same high-quality moments: evocations of people suffering from — and defying, and finding their humanity in — awe-inspiring challenges of the world. But the big theme and motif on this new disc are one and the same: islands. There are sonic and lyrical metaphors of isolation, long journeys and living under the influence of waves all around. Most are played and sung brilliantly in precise arrangements that seem destined for concert chambers, not clubs. The moments that remind you this is a rock band in a studio (“Corridors”) aren’t out of place, though — they work fine. But this theme has been approached time and again by ambitious rockers, and this sterile veneer means digging down to the beautiful details.