The Decemberists have now been around for 15 years, consistently producing songs that are literate, ambitious and substantial. Their brand of indie folk rock has been so embraced in their homeland, that their last album, The King is Dead, went straight to number one on the US Billboard Album Chart, and now their native city of Portland, Oregon has officially named 20 January “Decemberists’ Day”, to mark the release of their latest album, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World.
We should be eternally grateful that America is so nurturing of this kind of music, giving the Decemberists the longevity to produce an album like this. What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World is a pure delight. There is a real diversity of sound and style here that includes the more radio friendly indie pop of “Make You Better” and “The Wrong Year”, the Dylan-esque soulful blues of “Mistral”, and the more traditional folk and country fare of tracks like “Carolina Low” and “Anti-Summersong”.
Lyrically the band are in familiar narrative and character driven style for part of the album (with tracks like “Cavalry Captain”) but there is also a change of direction, as they branch out into more personal reflections. This is most evident on 12/17/12, from which the album’s title is drawn. Written after hearing President Obama speak about the Newtown school shootings, the final moments of the track are the most poignant on the LP.
But then there are also instances of real humour and playfulness, such as in the opening track, which takes a tongue in cheek look at the dynamics and pressures of the modern music industry.
Thus, as the title suggests, this is an album that explores the very different sides of human experience. It’s bittersweet and very satisfying.
With sweet melodies and lush orchestrations, and all packaged up in beautiful, clear production, this is an album worth getting lost in long after Decemberists’ Day has passed.
What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World is out now from EMI Music Australia / Capitol Records.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor