Review: The Decemberists don’t disappoint in highly anticipated return

Maggie Kimber, Staff Writer

It is only fitting that The Decemberists new album, What a Terrible World, What a Wonderful World, has left me feeling like a proud parent at her child’s graduation since it comes after a four-year hiatus in which the band has clearly learned some new things.

Despite several years of watching The Decemberists produce noteworthy indie folk tracks, their albums as a whole have never entirely lived up to my expectations. Their last release Long Live the King was nothing short of disappointing, and, frankly, an insufficient predecessor of their break-through compilation, The King is Dead.

With the release of their seventh album, however, The Decemberists have finally achieved the sound I always knew they were capable of producing. What a Terrible World, What a Wonderful World comprises the bands most diverse track list to date.

The 14-song collection leads in with “The Singer Addresses His Audience”, which corresponds to the five-piece ensemble’s earlier works, drawing from both folk and rock influences. It is made clear from early on, however, that the overall sound has evolved to a more dynamic level.

Upbeat tracks like “Philomena” and “Cavalry Captain” boast dynamic intros that coincide with equally catchy choruses, while still staying true to the band’s signature, narrative-style, lyrics. The songs’ jazzier, symphonic instrumental breaks work with rhythmic beats to create a fuller effect.

Lead singer Colin Meloy has also taken his vocals to new heights in songs like “Make You Better” and “Carolina Low”. They showcase his equally subtle and smooth voice by allowing it to shine through during well-composed verses only accompanied by soft, underlying acoustics.

“Anti-Summersong”, and “A Beginning Song” don’t stray too far from the group’s typical sound but are more impressive in comparison, due to tighter harmonies.

3/4 of the album gained my approval, but the last fourth left me on the fence, which continually reminded me of a country-western movie. The vocals take on a heartier, grungier sound, uncharacteristic of the band, while the instruments include banjo, classical guitar, and occasionally the harmonica. Among these stragglers are “Better Not Wake The Baby”, “Carolina Low,” and “Mistral.” I didn’t hesitate to skip to one of the notably better tracks.

Overall, What a Terrible World, What a Wonderful World has successfully reclaimed The Decemberists position in the indie folk world as well as their spot on my Spotify playlist.

Rating: 8/10