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22.10
2015

What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, by The Decemberists

article's cover image (What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, by The Decemberists)

Can the seventh album of a band be as good as their first?

The Decemberists are somehow a particular band of alternative music. Led by Colin Meloy from Montana, a singer who uses his voice vibrato to match the theatrical approach of their live performances, they stage almost full theatrical shows drawing themes from historical events, pirates and sea battles in which they clamor the participation of the fans. Meloy, takes full advantage of his degree in creative writing and his talent to create highly refined lyrics dressed melodically with many different textures of the music fashion: Indie Folk, Alt-Country, Country Pop, Indie Rock, Chamber Pop, Baroque Pop and influences by the British Folk of the 1960s (Fairport Convention, Pentangle) as well as from the College Rock of the 1980s (The Waterboys, R.E.M.). As for contemporary bands of Indie Pop, The Decemberists like groups such as Camera Obscura, Explosions In The Sky, The Postal Service, etc. Meloy himself seems to also love Sam Cooke, Morrissey and Siouxsie Sioux. With so many influences, naturally the sound of The Decemberists travels back and forth between electric and acoustic with Meloy using (apart from electric guitar), a twelve-string acoustic guitar, harmonica and even bouzouki! Valuable assistant in The Decemberists’ demanding orchestration efforts is multi-instrumentalist Chris Funk, who enriches with Folk and Country elements their tunes, playing (apart from a set of different guitars), banjo, mandolin, violin, saxophone and other "forgotten" instruments of Folk music. 

The band’s seventh album comes four years after “The King Is Dead” of 2011, which was their most successful. In “The King…” they retained the Rock attitude of the 2009 “The Hazards Of Love” album, they fully revealed their love for R.E.M. and gained chart success reaching number 1 in the United States and n. 24 in the UK! Logically, success would create a stress in the band, especially to artists like The Decemberists, who are not familiar to it. Of their previous albums, only “The Hazards…” had done well, climbing to number 14; their initial albums did not even get into the charts. But The Decemberists treated success the way artists who first and foremost respect their art should do. 

In the “What a Terrible World...”, The Decemberists are not trying to capitalize on past success by following the same recipe. While an effort to balance between melodic Pop and adventurous orchestration is evident, high aesthetics finally win the day over catchy choruses. This is an album heavy on Folk, evident by the use of banjo, mandolin, accordion and tambourine and thoughtful orchestrations that reconfigure the melody. Lyrically, Meloy once again explores the boundaries of regret and frustration, essentially giving the album a non-commercial character. Nevertheless, the album reached number 7 in an America that seems that during the crisis developed new aesthetic criteria. Finally, thirteen years after the “Castaways and Cutouts” album of 2002, which is The Decemberists’ historical benchmark, the band succeeds in creating another great album, less dramatic perhaps, but with the same dedication to melody.

What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World by The Decemberists (2015)

Genre: Alternative Rock, Indie Pop, Indie Folk, Chamber Pop

Label: Capitol

author's image (Solus Ipse Gherkin)

about author
Solus Ipse Gherkin

Solus Ipse Gherkin hails from a distant planet and landed on Earth in 1968 because of an accident during an intergalactic journey. Since then, he strove to acquire earthly existence but managed to become a human only recently, in 2015. In the past, his alien nature found shelter at frequencies, laser beams and optical fibers inside which he could only feel and understand music. Today, although he is, at last, a human he can do nothing else but to live, speak and write about music (and for this reason the rest of humankind treats him with the appropriate kindness).

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