The Decemberists - Entering the December of their career?

The band’s 10th LP feels lazy and short, disappointing long-time fans

ae-Decemberists-CourtesyWikimediaCommons

The Decemberists' new album falls short of expectations.

Wikimedia Commons

For a veteran band like the Decemberists, “I’ll Be Your Girl” is quite a disappointment. The Portland joint has always produced an excellent combination of clever lyrics, enticing melodies and a vibrant indie folk sensibility. Sadly, their latest album, released last week, possesses none of that intellectual and colorful charm. On the surface “I’ll Be Your Girl” still sounds like a Decemberists record — with a tad more synth influence this time around — but the new influences that are introduced fail to create a lasting impact, and the album falls into a monotonous rut. 

“Once In My Life,” the first track on the album, exemplifies why the group’s new synth-heavy sound isn’t successful. The track starts, unsurprisingly enough, with jangling guitar and the classic quavering vocals. But soon enough, the listener is greeted with a wave of synths. They add next to nothing, and the track probably would have been better supported by an accordion, like it would be on an earlier Decemberists album. 

What’s most apparent on first listen of “I’ll Be Your Girl” is not only the heavy use of synthesizers compared to past releases, but just how little of an effect this has on the band’s songwriting. The singles “Severed” and “Once In My Life” feel like the band might be incorporating songwriting techniques from 1980s synthpop artists like New Order and Depeche Mode, but the album as a whole seems afraid to dive fully into this style. The problem here is not that the band is trying to experiment — different directions are good for artists, especially established groups like The Decemberists — but the group wasn’t willing to fully embrace their new direction, and thus the experimentation failed. The synth work here replaces the richer and fuller progressive folk instrumentation that the Decemberists are best known for.

“I’ll Be Your Girl” reminds the listener that The Decemberists haven’t lost their ability to write great lyrics or weave their unique personality into catchy songs. Instead, it confirms what was evident on their last album but only made even clearer here — they don’t know what kind of album they want to make anymore. They’ve stopped approaching their albums with the conceptual ideas that made their past releases great full-album experiences, even when they would utilize the same techniques for writing a great song multiple times on the same album. Those formulas and tricks are laid bare on these tracks, with no overarching theme or concept grander than itself to play into. “I’ll Be Your Girl” is a collection of tracks that neither achieve anything on their own nor do they amount to anything as a greater whole.

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