A few months after the Decemberists performed their first headlining concert in three years, the Portland, Oregon group have readied the release of its first record in four years. What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, which the band’s frequent producer Tucker Martine helmed, will contain 14 new offerings of the ensemble’s signature approach to folkish indie-rock when it comes out on January 20th.
As a preview of the album, the group is streaming the wistful, delicately piano-accented single “Make You Better,” which the group is offering as an instant-gratification download for online pre0orders. The band has also shared a trailer video showing them recording the song.
Also, in late October, Meloy stood on a Brooklyn corner and busked the song with an acoustic guitar, as well as the What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World track “Lake Song.” He also sang Decemberists tunes like “The Crane Wife,” “Don’t Carry It All” and “The Engine Driver,” as well as a cover of Morrissey’s “Every Day Is Like Sunday.”
“Having a family, having kids, having this career, getting older – all of these things have made me look more inward,” frontman Colin Meloy said in a statement about the group’s direction. But the introspective nature of the lyrics aren’t totally about himself. The song “12/17/12” refers to President Obama’s national address in reaction to the Newtown school shootings. “I was hit by a sense of helplessness, but also the message of ‘Hold your family close,'” Meloy said. The singer-songwriter has cited Leonard Cohen’s Phil Spector–produced 1977 record as a reference point for the record.
As evidenced by the gap in time since the group put out 2011’s The King Is Dead, the band took a casual approach to the record. In 2012, the band issued the live record We All Raise Our Voices to the Air, submitted a new song to the first Hunger Games soundtrack and appeared on The Simpsons. Meloy also issued two new children’s books in his Wildwood Chronicles series in 2012 and 2014, and in 2013, Meloy put out a self-explanatory EP titled Colin Meloy Sings the Kinks. Also during that time, the rest of the band members convened as the bluegrass collective Black Prairie and issued three albums between 2012 and 2014. And this year, the band appeared on an episode of Parks and Recreation.
“We’ve been going fairly strong for 10 years, and it just felt like we were due [for] a step away just to work on other pursuits to keep the juices flowing, to not stagnate or anything,” Meloy told Rolling Stone last November in regard to new Decemberists material. “Hopefully, we’ll come back a fully refreshed band with a new perspective.”
The group has booked a European tour for February, but has yet to announce any U.S. dates.
What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World Track List:
1. “The Singer Addresses His Audience”
2. “Cavalry Captain”
4. “Make You Better”
5. “Lake Song”
6. “Till The Water Is All Long Gone”
7. “The Wrong Year”
8. “Carolina Low”
9. “Better Not Wake The Baby”
11. “Easy Come, Easy Go”
14. “A Beginning Song”