The Decemberists: What a Beautiful World, What a Terrible World

So here’s the thing with The Decemberists—you never really know what you’re going to get. What a Beautiful World, What a Terrible World is the band’s seventh album and in many ways it’s both a leap forward and business as usual. Featuring bright production, assured musicianship, understated orchestral arrangements, twinkling pianos, and some of Colin Meloy’s most intensely personal lyrics, WABW,WATW is an evocative rumination on lost youth, longing, fatherhood, fame, and the senseless tragedies that characterize the age we live in, all unpinned by Meloy’s soaring, endearingly nasal, vocal style and ever-present acoustic strumming. Combining elements of doo-wop, roots music, sea shanties, and insanely catchy pop, and employing a wide range of instruments—banjos, harmonicas, double bass, accordions, honky-tonk pianos—the album covers a lot of musical and thematic ground but never lacks cohesion. At 14 songs, however, the album runs the risk of being overlong, tending to sag towards the midpoint. But these are minor flaws in an otherwise sublime collection of songs, and from start to finish WABW,WATW is a triumph. And while Meloy claims he’s “not so starry-eyed anymore,” the strength of songcraft on show here suggests that maybe that’s no bad thing.

Rating: ★★★½☆

-Robin Moss