Posted on January 19th, 2015 (4:00 pm) by Casey Bauer

There aren't many bands that make their listeners show their emotions on their sleeves as easily as the Decemberists do. They can make anyone laugh out loud, cry, question, shiver, or rant without shame, making them a group you don’t just suggest to a friend, but rather, a group you force upon them. Led by Colin Meloy, the band is known for their quirky, lyrical vignettes played out through short, poppy tunes and Homer-esque epics. Their subject matter ranges from love to revenge, and sometimes spans several minutes to full-album lengths. Their seventh studio release, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, you can bet is something we’re excited about.

Coinciding with the band's prior album and Meloy’s recent statement, “We do short songs now,” What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World is, indeed, made up of shorter tracks. However, that shouldn’t act as a deterrent. The album is packed with varying styles and moods, each song holding its own weight in full. “Carolina Low” is a haunting memory of previous Decemberists tracks, with a barren soundscape and a removed, unreliable narrator supported by dark, crazed lyrics (“would’ve sealed with a handshake, spoiled with a kiss, you got an ugly little mouth boy, it’s come to this”). This track and “Mistral” both draw influence from Leonard Cohen's use of back-up singers (dubbed “angels”), and the result is a cavernous chamber of rich sound.

Similarly short and sweet, “Easy Come, Easy Go” is just over two minutes long, but talks about the fragility and unpredictable nature of life. We’re given dark comic relief with rhyming lyrics and a spaghetti western guitar backed by a percussion section. On the lighter side, however, “Philomena” is reminiscent of Her Majesty’s “Billy Liar.” It is an uplifting track that encourages a gentle sway and has a charming sauciness that only Meloy can pull off.

Known for using words like, “culvert,” “avarice,” “gadabout,” the Decemberists have a timeless vocabulary, oftentimes turning each song into an English lesson. As such, “Lake Song” is a track you duck into cautiously, but come out of fully rewarded. It’s a meandering song with vocals that dip and dive around tickles of a piano, only lining up with a musical phrase at the beginnings and ends of each verse. Meloy’s characteristic quiver bleeds beautifully, and we’re introduced to words like “fey,” “sibylline,” and “prevaricate.” Once again we’re struck by how easily Meloy turns simple moments into flourishes that prove much more memorable. He even describes the neighborhood pests that romp all over your lawn as “young suburban villains and their ill-begotten children.” Like, c’mon.

As a whole, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World makes us insanely jealous of all the people that got to see Meloy announce the album by singing on a street corner in Brooklyn. It may not have the thematic cohesion of prior albums, but it still manages to have everything we love about The Decemberists: that harmonica and organ, Meloy’s unmatched lyrical gold, and stories worth reliving over and over again.

Track List:

  1. The Singer Addresses His Audience
  2. Cavalry Captain
  3. Philomena
  4. Make You Better
  5. Lake Song
  6. Till the Water is All Gone
  7. The Wrong Year
  8. Carolina Low
  9. Better Not Wake the Baby
  10. Anti-Summersong
  11. Easy Come, Easy Go
  12. Mistral
  13. 12-17-12
  14. A Beginning Song
The Decemberists - What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World Review
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Our Rating

90 / 100
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