What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World

The Decembrists
Autumn de Wilde

The Decemberists' first LP since 2011 ups the hooks and deepens the emotions

The Decemberists

"O Philomena," sings Colin Meloy on his band's return after a four-year hiatus – because Jills and Judys clearly don't excite his quill like the polysyllabic hottie he implores to "open up your linen lap and let me go down." With sultry ooh-wahs and chiming guitars, "Philomena" might be the catchiest cunnilingus tribute since Foxy Brown's "Candy," and it shows a band refreshed, enriching its trademark folk rock with Seventies pop plushness and hooks.

It's a good move for a crew whose lexically intoxicated smarty-pants instincts can get the best of it. "Cavalry Captain" flaunts bright Chicago IX brass and backing vocals à la the Carpenters' Now & Then; "Lake Song" is a perfect evocation of Nick Drake's fleecy Bryter Layter. Maybe because Meloy is now a published author (he's penned a trilogy of popular children's books), his songwriting wit seems to have grown sharper and less showoff-y. Even the cheeky prodigal-son overture "The Singer Addresses His Audience" ("We know you built your lives around us") lands compelling points about art, fame, fandom and self-determination. Elsewhere, head takes a back seat to heart. "We already wrecked the rental car/And I've already lost my way," Meloy sings on "Mistral," and you don't need Wikipedia to feel his pain.        

From The Archives Issue 1227: January 29, 2015
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