About two months ago, I was on one of my traditional YouTube hunts for new music. After listening to Daughter for a bit, I came across “A Beginning Song” by The Decemberists and was caught up. I will admit – no matter how fixated it makes me look – I listened to it an obscene amount of times for the following couple of days.
Until that time, I had never truly listened to The Decemberists. I had heard of them, but didn’t seek them out to have a listen. So, with one song in my brain and a musical curiosity, I ventured further into The Decemberists. And what I found was an album of real, heartfelt composition.
“A Beginning Song” is the 14th and last song – ironically, considering its title – on The Decemberists’ new album, “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World,” which was released in January. While the name of the last song may be ironic, Colin Meloy’s calm crooning closes the album with an uplifting but thought-provoking anthem that alludes to the birth of his second child, affirming that at each end there is a new beginning.
Many longtime fans have described this album as a different sound for The Decemberists, but a deeper and more personal production as well. “12/17/12,” written in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings, is simple and encapsulating. After learning of the song’s influence, the lyrics and tone create a heartbreaking beauty that is only amplified by Meloy’s genuine and untainted voice. The harmonica runs and steady bass drum beats create a calm but sincere mood, where we encounter the lyrics that named the album.
Of the 14 songs, “Make You Better” is slotted as the lead single, which doesn’t mean much other than it is likely to be the most recognizable song of the lot. When I first listened to this song, I instantly thought it to be reminiscent of Sponge, as if its opening chords were a more cheerful “I Am Anastasia.” However, “Make You Better” just isn’t a song you compare to others. Its laid-back, optimistic sound holds its own ground against other music styles.
There is diversity within the album itself as well, not just against The Decemberists’ previous six albums. The varying styles range from country-tinged ramblers such as “Lake Song,” or “Carolina Low,” to uplifting blues tracks with a small-town Southern hospitality like “Anti-Summersong.” The album continues with beach-y vibes with a Johnny Cash power “Easy Come, Easy Go,” 1930s-style country-with-a-pub song pull “Better Not Wake the Baby,” 1960s swing with a 1970s gameshow glow “Cavalry Captain” and some doo-wop lulls in “Philomena.” We get a Mutemath-esque buildup and subtle force “The Singer Addresses His Audience,” and easy driving comfort “Till The Water’s All Long Gone,” “Mistral” and “The Wrong Year.”
For more information on The Decemberists, such as upcoming concerts, visit www.decemberists.com, follow them on Twitter @TheDecemberists or visit their Facebook page. “What a Terrible World, What a Wonderful World” is available on Amazon and Google Play, but is free to listen on their YouTube page (#TheDecemberists).