January 22, 2009

Test Spin: The Decemberists

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By re-embracing musical simplicity on Always the Bridesmaids Vols. I-III, the Decemberists’ enviable defining traits once more come into sharp focus: the loose-limbed rhythm section, the chiming guitars, the hymnal efficiency of the rise-and-fall melodies and Colin Meloy’s surgically precise lyrics. Meloy’s penchant for sharply-drawn narratives also continues — one is “Valerie Plame,” with lyrics in the shape of a fictional love letter to the outed spy (there is also a Barton Hall-tested, arena-worthy, “Hey Jude”-style outro). “Record Year” and “Raincoat Song” mix desolate rainy imagery with pretty acoustic guitars; the former adds a string quartet and a gorgeous descending vocal melody. “O New England,” an impressionistic travelogue, is just as engaging for its loping beat and simple, classic chord progression. With the upcoming LP, Hazards of Love, featuring another anthropomorphic conceit, one hopes that the Decemberists’ capacity for producing moments of simple beauty, as heard in these songs, will not be sacrificed to their prog-rock ambition.