The Decemberists will release their 7th studio album, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, on January 20, 2015. This will be The Decemberists first full length studio album since 2011’s The King Is Dead, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
With their two most recent albums, The Hazards of Love and The King is Dead, the songs flowed out of an overall theme. Entering the studio in May 2013, The Decemberists reversed that approach.
Typically we book four or five weeks in the studio and bang out the whole record, explains singer Colin Meloy. This time, we started by just booking three days, and didn t know what we would record. There was no direction or focus; we wanted to just see what would come out. We recorded Lake Song on the first day, live, and then two more songs in those three days. And the spirit of that session informed everything that came after.
From the soaring, bittersweet first single Make You Better , to the ruminating ballad Lake Song , and anthemic closer A Beginning Song , What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World establishes itself as the Decemberists most varied and dynamic work to date, both musically and emotionally.
Singer Addresses His Audience, The
Make You Better
Til the Water’s All Long Gone
Wrong Year, The
Better Not Wake the Baby
Easy Come, Easy Go
Beginning Song, A
The Decemberists belatedly embraced their indie pop sensibilities (or at very least their fondness for R.E.M.) on 2011’s The King Is Dead, and were rewarded with a number one chart placing and the group’s greatest commercial success to date, leading some to wonder if Colin Meloy and his bandmates were going to go for more hooks or return to the more ornate sound of their earlier work now that they had a large audience waiting for the follow-up. As it turns out, 2014’s What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World finds the Decemberists managing to have it both ways; if anything, many of these songs are brighter and hookier than those on The King Is Dead, but if this is pop, it’s pop that’s keenly intelligent, melodically adventurous, obsessively literate, and perfectly willing to explore sadness and disappointment rather than just the upbeat moods that are expected to accompany catchy melodies. The melodies on “Lake Song” and “Till the Water Is All Long Gone” may be more streamlined than you’d hear on Picaresque or The Crane Wife, but the arrangements are richly detailed, playing on the dynamics of Chris Funk’s guitars, Jenny Conlee’s keyboards and accordions, and John Moen’s percussion, and the group takes much pleasure in the dour beauty of its melodies. The band also embraces its upbeat side on this album with numbers like “The Wrong Year” and “Philomena” (the latter pondering teenage lust as only the Decemberists can), and the opening track, “The Singer Addresses His Audience,” is a witty but cutting meditation on the notion of fame, its impact on the culture, and where the Decemberists fit into the puzzle in the wake of hit records and appearances on Parks & Recreation. There’s still more than enough folk in the Decemberists’ approach to make them stand apart from their peers on the upper reaches of the pop charts, and the intuitive smarts of their stylistic vision are still front and center, but What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World is an album where the creative sprawl is more a matter of how this divergent selection of melodies and moods interacts, rather than how many elements can be folded into one song; this is very clearly the Decemberists, but with a new kind of focus in their songs and arrangements that makes it clear this album’s sound is a result of creative evolution, not an offering to their newer, larger audience, and it’s a sweet and sour wonder that rewards repeated listening.