The Decemberists

What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (Capitol)

Phases & Stages

The Decemberists

What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (Capitol)

Indie rock fanatics and tastemakers have gotten so used to Portland's Decemberists having a narrative concept (The Crane Wife, The Hazards of Love), or trying to prove something (the "We're not a prog band – really!" songcraft of The King Is Dead) that an album as straightforward as What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World feels underwhelming. Put aside expectations of grandeur, however, and Colin Meloy's musical and thematic obsessions reward handsomely. The lustful "Philomena" emulates Sixties girl-group pop, while the melancholic "Make You Better" and "Cavalry Captain" find the band pursuing indie pop at its most melodic. "Lake Song" pursues Nick Drake under a pink moon, while "Carolina Low" and "Better Not Wake the Baby" evoke folk of a less specific but more timeless nature. "Anti-Summersong" and the resigned, painfully meta "The Singer Addresses His Audience" touch on one of Meloy's pet themes: the relationship between artists and their consumers. What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World isn't a concept LP or any kind of statement of higher purpose. Instead, it simply illuminates the Decemberists' inviolate strengths.

***.5

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