The Decemberists are devoted anachronists. So with the pop album completing its evolution into iPod shuffle — mix fodder, it's the right time for the Portland, Oregon, band to release an old — fashioned prog concept record. True to form, The Hazards of Love brings the glorious excess: There's strummy British folk rock and heavy — metal thunder, orchestral strings and a children's choir. Guitarist Chris Funk, like Yes' Steve Howe, deploys every stringed instrument in the showroom, from mandolin and autoharp to pedal steel. And ringleader Colin Meloy gathers Becky Stark (Lavender Diamond), Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) and others to sing a tale of a maiden knocked up by a shape — shifting beast who may be her future husband. There's also a psychotic queen and three revenge — seeking ghost kids.
The Decemberists approach this kind of pretentiousness somewhat ironically, but they also clearly love their models, Led Zeppelin and Fairport Convention among them. While Funk's Valhalla — calling power chords on "The Abduction of Margaret" feel a little like punch lines, they're also awesomely rockin'. So are Worden's frightening PJ Harvey — ish queen roars, and even the kids choir. There could be a few more hooks. But great prog concept records are way more about sound journeys than killer choruses. From the glacial, droning opening track to the head — scratcher folk finale, The Hazards of Love takes its time, inviting you to grab a seat in front of the fire, stoke your Meerschaum pipe and take a trip.