The Decemberists, with their songwriter leader Colin Meloy on the front line, had created one of the best albums of 2009, with the epic rock opera “Hazards of Love”. An album with strong songs, for one thing, on dark topics: the killings of children, double-suicide and a jealous mother-in-law. The music wasn’t as chilling as the lyrics, but the music was such powerful and inspired. Live, we could appreciate a strong band, led by a typical folk songwriter that handled the front stage with presence and confidence.

It’s this angle that comes out the most on their new album, “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World”, that just came out January 20th, on Capitol Records. We now meet with Meloy as a folk singer more than anything (The Singer Addresses His Crowd), acoustic guitar and lead vocals grabbing all of the attention.

The rest of the band – Chris Funk on guitar, Jenny Conlee on organ, Nate Query on bass and John Moen on drums – takes a somewhat more backup band than on “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World”. Very nice female back vocals from Jenny Conlee smooth things up here and there, but strings are way back in the mix, losing their menacing angle that were so impressive before. The Decemberists are closer to John Darnielle’s Mountain Goats or Billy Bragg’s type of folk rock than ever before (Lake Song).

Many songs like Till The Water’s All Gone are folk songs in the purest way, full of promises and commitment. In this particular one, acoustic and classical guitars alone create a traditional feel, surrounding Meloy’s sad voice. Carolina Low is another beautiful moment, almost a solo act à la Neil Young. Somehow surprising is you stayed under the impression that this band was heavier, after listening to the dark rock from “The Hazards of Love”. We’d be equally surprised if Arcade Fire would release a folk album. I’m sure it would be good, but it would be quite a change of style and might leave some fans puzzled.

Some other songs aren’t as inspired, or inspiring. The Wrong War isn’t a bad song, but its format is so predictable that the listener can be a bit bored. Especially from a band like The Decemberists which have had a history of bringing dynamic music to our ears.

The good news is that most of Colin Meloy’s songs are very well written. It would have been a shame to hide them under an unnecessary mix of instruments that could have distracted the listeners from the stories. It is tough to say if The Decemberists’ fans will enjoy the folk angle as much as they relished “Hazards of Love” a few years before, but people who appreciate well-crafted songs should join the fanbase and happily discover the Portland band, valuing their wide variety of possibilities, musically speaking.

THE DECEMBERISTS
What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
(Capitol, 2015)

-Genre: folk
-In the same mood than Billy Bragg, The Mountain Goats, Neil Young

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About The Author

Nicolas Pelletier
Fondateur et rédacteur en chef
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Mélomane invétéré et rédacteur agréé, Nicolas pratique la critique en mode olympique: il parle de tout, tout le temps, depuis 1991. Il a publié 4 500 critiques de disques et concerts dont 1100 chez emoragei magazine et 600 sur enMusique.ca, dont il a également été le rédacteur en chef de 2009 à 2014. Nicolas a publié "Les perles rares et les grands crus de la musique" en janvier 2013, un ouvrage de 1250 pages en deux tomes.