Album Reviews

The Decemberists – What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World

Artist:     The Decemberists

Album:     What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World

Label:     Capitol Records

Release Date:     01/20/2015


What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World opens with the song “A Singer Addresses His Audience,” a somewhat sincere somewhat tongue in cheek disclaimer to eager fans about fame’s accompanying burdens… to please an insatiable fan base, for one. “We know we belong to you,” lead singer Colin Meloy implores in that distinct, warbling voice he’s grown so beloved for over the years. But, he gently warns, “we had to change some.”

Four years have passed since 2011’s highly-acclaimed The King is Dead, and each passing year indeed drove the stakes higher of what critics and fans expected from the Decemberists’ seventh studio album. But Meloy and his band need not feel too bad, delivering an album that showcases the Decemberists you know and love while also presenting an evolved, mature style, nuanced and capable of conveying an emotional and tonal range perhaps never before seen. The winding album seems infused with a variety of genres, from the eerie, plaintive roots-twinged “Carolina Low,” the folksy, pulsing Scottish brogue of “Better Not Wake the Baby,” the gunfighter ballad thunder of “Easy Come, Easy Go,” the Dylanesque harmonica of “12/17/12.”

The Decemberists still create stories, crafting tiny, swirling epics, evocative in their challenging and poetic language as well as their masterful instrumentation. Meloy remarked that he struggled to find the proper order for the tracks, and indeed, the songs are remarkable in their ability to stand alone, each one a little self contained unit to be picked up and enjoyed. With memorable melodies and a new, more experimental style, What a Beautiful World, What a Terrible World pushes the boundaries of genre and expectation, proving that though a band may have to change, change can be very, very good.

– Emily Gawlak

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