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CD of The Week

Week of 3/19/18

    The Decemberists - I'll Be Your Girl (Capitol)

    The Decemberists have consistently existed in their own carved-out niche for their entire career. They've seen commercial success while maintaining their indie charm and not alienating their fans by straying towards the mainstream. Their eighth studio album, I'll Be Your Girl, is no exception from the well-crafted prog-rock.

    Never one to mince words, frontman Colin Meloy's lyrics continue to inspire while evoking various emotions. The album opens with "Once In My Life," continuing the band's tradition of carefully strummed acoustic guitar and vocals, progressing into a full band crescendo at the exact right moment. Meloy beckons, "Oh for once in my life, could something just go right?" The song manages to be simultaneously both cliché and prolific. A man down on his luck inevitably cries the same plea, but Meloy masterfully combines cynicism and doubt to counteract each other as hope rises and the song closes with, "I could wait for hours and never fall down."

    This album sees the Decemberists make use of synthesizers in almost every song. Having stayed with traditional guitar/bass/drum/occasional brass instruments, the addition of synths serve an important purpose. It was not a complete reinvention of their sound but was critical in the progressing evolution of it.

    The most synth-laden track on the album is lead single, "Severed." It is driven by an arpeggiated and distorted synth with a subtle backing bass, all supporting Meloy as he warns, "Don't you get clever…gonna leave you all severed." While adding new musical elements. it echoes back to previous themes of unsuspecting violence in past Decemberists songs ("The Shankill Butchers" and "O Valencia!" from The Crane Wife, "16 Military Wives" from Picaresque, just to name a few.)

    "We All Die Young" returns to another of the band's recurring themes: war. Sonically the song fits alongside The Black Keys, but the lyrics are distinctly Colin Meloy. Referencing Bill Tecumseh Sherman, an outspoken Union general in the Civil War who left the Catholic Church after seeing the horrors of countless young men losing their lives in battle, it cheerfully and repeatedly reassures that we all die young.

    "Everything is Awful" is arguably the standout track from this outing. Offering a sort of call-and-response between Meloy and Jenny Conlee, it showcases yet another layer in the band's arsenal. Infectious melodies and catchy harmonies collide with poetic and hyperbolic lyrics that somehow convey the message that we're all in this together.

    In their long and storied history, the Decemberists have continued to toe their self-made line between the familiar and the uncomfortable. I'll Be Your Girl seems to pay homage to earlier Decemberists albums while setting its sights on the future.

    The Decemberists return to Philadelphia on June 7th at The Mann Center.

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    Review by Dan Baker

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