The Decemberists came into my life when I was at my most emotional self: my freshman year of high school. Everything was new and shiny and I felt everything so deeply. I still have a vivid memory of getting into my mom’s car after school and putting in the CD of Castaways & Cutouts, that I’d undoubtedly checked out of the public library, and hearing Leslie Anne Levine. It’s been over a decade and I can’t think of another song that makes me so immediately melancholic. While some songs and artists from that year have been tainted because they were introduced to me by my first boyfriend (freshman year was full of milestones and big feelings), for some reason The Decemberists escaped that shadow. Maybe because I already loved them more deeply than I would ever feel for my then-boyfriend.
On this, the day of The Decemberists’ new album, I took the opportunity to reflect on their new songs, their new sound, and how they make me feel:
1) Once In My Life: Starts strong with some Castaways vibes. Wait, no, more like Crane Wife. If you haven’t listened to their single Everything I Try To Do, Nothing Seems To Turn Out Right this is like that but more mainstream. I love the lyrics even though they’re simple. I can already picture myself jamming out to this driving down the coast or crying on any highway. I never really need chorus / background vocals, that’s just not the music I skew toward, and we could cut that out and make the song about half as long. It’s still going on my driving playlist though.
2) Cutting Stone: I was not ready for the tonal shift between songs. This could fit on Her Majesty except oh, with synth. So far I’m declaring this album Crane Wife’s Synth Sister.
Two thoughts between tracks: these lyrics seem more simplistic than in the past; I want to read the longest essay that’s like a vein diagram of Daniel Ortberg and The Decemberists and their imagery/storytelling.
3) Severed: Starts with me thinking I’m about to enter like Tron or some 16 bit game. There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance between these tracks, it’s like someone bumped the knob that tuned the synth and accidentally put to much techno in it. I do enjoy the way the synth lulls me into thinking the song isn’t nearly as dark as it truly is. Also, I’ve had enough exposure therapy to this that I think it’s finally growing on me.
4) Starwatcher: I’m imagining this song playing out in like 16th c England for no reason but I could make a short film about it. It would have like Month Python aesthetic but be about like Galileo. He mentioned a laundromat so yes exactly like Month Python, just an anachronistic short film that mixes ancient and modern times.
5) Tripping Along: Strong acoustic opening. I’m already falling deeply in love with this. This is some Classic Decemberists; the tone is making me cry. It’s fine. I’m fine. A single tear rolled down my face when he sang “what messes are we” I’m just so glad this band is still in my life 13 years after I first heard them they are tied so tightly to my emotions. Just abandon me here.
6) Your Ghost: Another aggressive tone shift. I wasn’t prepared but I’m also into this song now that I’m over the shock. And not just because I’m a ghost. I’m getting like v subtle Beatles vibes. (Again, I don’t need the female chorus.) This reminds me of the haunted boardwalk level of Mario Kart 64. Or like Bowser’s Castle. I enjoy this as a Decemberists song and part of the album but I don’t think it’s one I would single out to listen to a lot unless it was Halloween or I was in a particular mood/need it for a playlist.
7) Everything Is Awful: Is this going to be 2018’s anthem? It’s such a joyous calling out of how shitty our collective lives are. I can only listen to this super sparingly but I’m glad it exists. The cognitive dissonance of the major key with the lyrics is perfect, I’m pleased with this. “Kindly keep it down, I’m just trying to get some sleep.”
8) Sucker’s Prayer: Very classic rock intro. This is a solid jam. In the middle of the song I screamed, “OH MY GOD HE’S GONNA EDNA PONTELLIER!!!!” This song is depressing but perfect. This song is Good. Excellent guitar solo, we rarely get that from The Decemberists. Colin’s really hitting close to home with this one.
9) We All Die Young: The intro sounds like the Black Keys. [There are SO MANY tonal shifts in this album. I feel like the transitions could’ve been better.] Too much reverb/distortion for me. Oh this doesn’t fit them at all. They sound like they’re trying to be someone else. Shut it down. The discord is rough and my ears done like the scratchiness. I really want to skip this song and somehow there’s still 2 minutes left. They combined two of my least favorite things: children and background vocal choruses. And a sax solo?! Are they trying to lose all of my goodwill? Make this stop. I’m in pain. Drag my body into the sea I hate this. This is the opposite of ASMR; I’m so uncomfortable.
10) Rusalka, Rusalka / Wild Rushes: The piano intro gives me some Kid A era Radiohead vibes so obviously I’m in. This is like California One/The Youth and Beauty Brigade + The Island. It’s gorgeous, I want to sink into it. I don’t know what to say about this except I feel like I really needed it and I’m glad I have it. Really transports me back to their older stuff.
11) I’ll Be Your Girl: Yes. Yes yes yes. Fuck. Goddddddd. I don’t even dislike the xylophone break this song is magical. It’s healing my soul.
1) Tripping Along
2) I’ll Be Your Girl
3) Rusalka, Rusalka / Wild Rushes
Honorable Mention: Sucker’s Prayer
MY ALBUM RANKING:
- Castaways and Cutouts – first Decemberists album I ever heard and will never not make me an emotional wreck and nostalgic in the best ways for all of the emotions I used to be able to access
- Picaresque – so many classic jams
- The Crane Wife – the first album I ever bought – same day as The Killers’ Sam’s Town
- What A Terrible World, What a Wonderful World – Honestly surprised it ranked this high?
- The King is Dead – I really hate Rocks in the Box which I think is hurting it here, but overall none of the songs were that memorable to me?
- Her Majesty, The Decemberists – nostalgia really gets me, okay?
- The Hazards of Love – artistically beautiful but I really value just being able to listen to a whole story in one song. I don’t have the patience/attention span for this
- I’ll Be Your Girl – there are songs here I’ll really grow to love but a) it’s too new, and b) the rest of the album sucks
Listen to the entire album here: https://open.spotify.com/track/2MiX5yjl5t1W4HgM6zTbDC