by Stephanie L. Carlin
So, you may not know who The Decemberists are and that’s fine. They’re in a long line of rock-folk artists who have come up in the past decade, including The Lumineers, and probably, the more recognizable Mumford and Sons. Since 2000, this band has toured all over the world with a big, folksy sound that pretty much exists in any folk song imaginable. The difference is that these songs are still being made in the present, which is hard to think about. On the one hand, we have studies saying lyrics of pop, hip-hop and rock artists do not meet a 4th grade reading level, and yet folk bands like The Decemberists, touring with story-telling songs about philosophy and grief, have yet to receive one Grammy, despite having a nomination back in 2011 for “Down By The Water.” I thought I would look into this group because I have been listening to them for a while, and I thought they deserve a little more attention than they’ve been getting.
In researching this album, it seems the group has recently garnered a lot of attention for their album notes (remember those?). Well, the band spiked curiosity when the announcement of their new album featured their album artwork with a Donald Trump-like figure saying “I was born to a jackal.” What really hit home is that, with the album’s physical release last Friday, the album notes featured a thank you to Robert Mueller who, until recently, was director of the FBI. He was part of the Special Council in the current investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 Presidential Election, and possibly, the Trump Administration. If you haven’t figured it out yet, The Decemberists don’t like current US president.
Trust me, this is not normal for the Decemberists. They rarely ever talk about domestic politics and if they do talk about politics at all, it’s international and typically promoting peace and prosperity as most folk bands do. I think it’s because of recent events that this album is a step in a weird direction for the group. I’m perfectly fine with a change of pace. Some of last year’s best albums came out of artists rebranding themselves like Ke$ha’s Rainbow and Lady Gaga’s Joanne. The issue is this: for a folk band to put out a song like “Severed” ahead of their album release, one must ask – why the synths? It’s a perfectly good song about a leader who wants complete control of their people and doesn’t want said people to ask questions. Are the synths meant to add some kind of distortion of thought? Is it something to do in the perverse thinking of our current President and is the band trying to use synths as a way to showcase that?
Honestly, I don’t know. There are so many synths that the release becomes a bit of an 80’s nostalgia album. One can’t help but feel like they’ve dumbed down their sound a bit, despite having really fun songs in this album. Still, I have to question the whole thing when I listen to songs like “Everything is Awful” and “We All Die Young.” It makes me think that in the wake of the past year of politics, maybe the band is trying to grieve and understand the feelings that many in America are feeling. Maybe they’re experimenting and just getting the gist of new tech at their disposal. Lack of a clear answer is the problem with this album, or at the very least, the most confusing part for me.
I will say that the ending of this album is pretty much perfect. For those who don’t follow politics, or are not interested in how the President behaves daily, the ending of this album might not make sense. For those who are scared, confused, and anxious because of this administration, I think the title song “I’ll Be Your Girl” is the perfect song to say that no matter how scary everything gets, you can rely on the comfort of friends and family to pull you up.