The Decemberists are a ways off from their sea shanty days. A long way from tales that meandered through World War I circuses and purveyors of arcane goods and livers of extinct lifestyles. There are less instruments that look like pepper grinders and fireplace bellows and a move toward more traditional, modern day instrumentation. And despite that old sound growing, well, old, their new approach, which hovers somewhere around adult contemporary Americana, I miss some of that 6/8 wackiness. Ironically they even mention the change in the first track, and my favorite track, on the album, “The Singer Adresses His Audience.” It’s almost as if they were like “okay, we’ll give them a Decemberists’ track to start off the album, but in that song we’ll tell our audience not to expect any more.” It’s not as if the rest of the album doesn’t sound like them — in fact it probably sounds more like the older stuff than their last album, The King is Dead, but they clearly found a new voice on that last album that they slathered all over this one. It’s earnest in a completely different way than their old music. That was earnest in its delivery — the same way Broadway actors are earnest in delivering their lines in a baroque play. This album is earnest in its music and message. Less Chinese trapeze artists and more relationships and family and emotions. It’s as if Neutral Milk Hotel followed up In the Aeroplane Over the Sea with Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors. Yeah, just like that.
Not to say this is Rumors or anything, but it is a relatively pretty album, filled with nice pretty songs. The second song, “Cavalry Captain,” with its horns does make me want to rip the anvils from my ears, but otherwise there are very few clunkers across the board. It’s a lovely album, really. The songs read like a love song wrapped in a wool blanket on a rainy Portland day. Maybe with a mug of hot coffee and a footstool. And sometimes that’s all you’re looking for.