A Shipwreck in the Sand was recorded at Metalworks Studios, in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, with producer Cameron Webb, who also engineered and mixed it. Silverstein returned to Discovering the Waterfront (2005) producer Cameron Webb, after being disappointed with the recording process of their previous album, Arrivals & Departures (2007), which was produced by Mark Trombino.
Mixing took place at Maple Studios in Santa Ana, California, U.S. Sergio Chavez provided additional engineering, while Kevin Dietz was assistant engineer at Metalworks Studios. The album was mastered by Brian Gardner at Bernie Grundman Mastering.
The album features a much heavier sound. With some tracks that are soft, it also has some very heavy tracks and is considered their heaviest album. The album contains influences from post-hardcore, emo, hardcore punk and heavy metal.
The album features a conceptual storyline, written by lead vocalist Shane Told. Prior to the release of the album, an official album website was revealed, which told the tale of a vessel which set sail to find resources, and begin a new world, but when no new land is to be found, the crew revolts and turns against their captain.
The website also carried the tagline, "Betrayal. Arson. Infidelity. True Love.". Upon release of the album, it was revealed the story of the ship and its captain was just a metaphor of betrayal, similar to that faced by the protagonist in the main storyline.
The primary focus of the narrative throughout the album is of a man who discovers his partner is cheating on him with his best friend ("Vices"), and his dreams of a happy life with her are to be extinguished ("American Dream") as she intends to leave him for his best friend. He confronts his best friend ("I Knew I Couldn't Trust You"), before setting his and his partner's house on fire, ("I Am The Arsonist") with his partner and daughter still inside. As he still loves them, he cannot leave them to burn, so he saves them from the burning house ("A Great Fire") and subsequently faces court for his crime, where his partner accuses him of insanity and wins custody of their daughter ("We Are Not The World"). With a lack of evidence to prove he burnt down the house however, the courts have no option but to release him until the next day, so he drives away to sleep at a motel. Realizing he can't live without them, and faced with a lengthy prison sentence he ends up taking his own life in the motel room. ("A Hero Loses Everyday" and "The End"). Many lyrics reinforce this concept, such as;"You can't see me behind the door, I just heard everything you said." taken from "Vices"
"You call him, you're saying all these things you used to say to me." taken from "Vices"
"How could you do this? My best friend with my bride" taken from "I Am The Arsonist"
"They'll see your fire through the dark night sky... I hope you're home when I arrive" taken from "I Am The Arsonist"
"I can see through the flames that the fire cleanses me" taken from "A Great Fire"
"And now you've taken her away" from "We Are Not The World"
"Dead, lying all alone on this motel room floor, I know I'm dying" from "A Hero Loses Everyday"
"I didn't want to save you. I set our house on fire to watch it burn. But I couldn't just leave you there" from "The End"
Alongside the main storyline, some songs tackle individual issues, such as "Born Dead", which talks about the problems with the American health system. "The protagonist of the story is sick, terminally ill, and can't get health care," says Told. "That's a big reason for the problems that he's facing in his life." The track, "We Are Not The World" attacks the government and the problems of war.
In an interview filmed for the Decade (Live at the El Mocambo) live album, Shane Told states the following;
A demo version of "Broken Stars" had been streamed by the band on their MySpace profile in late 2008, and the song extensively performed on their U.S. tour then. The song was originally written during the sessions for the band's previous album, Arrivals & Departures. On January 29, they released the track listing along with the album cover for the new album, as well as an accompanying story to the album's concept.
On March 5 and on March 13, they also posted a clip of "Born Dead." On March 23, the full album was uploaded for streaming over MySpace Music. On March 17, 2009, they shot a music video for "Vices" with director Robby Starbuck. A Shipwreck in the Sand was released on March 31 on Victory. A CD/DVD version was also released. Starbuck would also directed their video for "American Dream", released on May 18, 2010.
A Shipwreck in the Sand received mainly positive reviews from music critics and fans alike. It peaked at number thirty three on the Billboard 200 album chart, a position higher than 2005's Discovering the Waterfront, however not reaching the height of its predecessor, Arrivals & Departures.
Daniel Thompson of Music Emissions suggested the album "may very well be the band's best album to date", and praised the diversity of musical styles present on the album, however criticized the repetitiveness of the lyrics stating, "it gets annoying hearing about the same thing in every song". Michael Roberts from Sputnikmusic wrote that the album contains "conceptual, musical and lyrical faults" but praised the band's "superb combination of heavy and melodic sections, improved song construction and memorable hooks" and dubbed the album "a strong release from the Canadian quintet". Drew Beringer of AbsolutePunk also gave a mainly positive review, calling it an "enjoyable, catchy album that digs deeper than most bands in its genre", giving the album an overall rating of 77% and saying although "musically, the album doesn’t implement a new sound or direction" it is "a refinement and polishing of the things the band has tried over the years".
Personnel per booklet.