I broke with tradition this morning, and as we landed off NZ38 from London back into my undisputed favourite country in the world, I listened to The Decemberists.
This is a restrained, measured folk album. I love The Decemberists' earlier work but I'm not sure I was convinced by 2009's 'The Hazards of Love' - to me it tried to do a bit much and lost touch with what this wonderful band does best. So I'm pleased to see this album return to The Decemberists I know and love. 'Rox in the Box' in particular reclaims this spirit, a jaunty, shanty-esque track - but the album is not all jigs and giggles, and features some beautifully stripped back ballads, like the wistful 'January Hymn' and its counterpart 'June Hymn'.
This album marks a return to basics, but is by no means a regression in style. To me it displays a new, mature treatment of an already successful style. Colin Meloy has a superb, distinctive voice which is once again allowed to shine on this album. The album features a number of interesting collaborations which illustrate the folksy direction they're taking. The influence of REM's Peter Buck is clear in this album, and it is also immediately obvious that Gillian Welch's touch extends deeply into the album as well (she does, after all, sing backing vocals on almost all of the tracks). It features some beautifully wistful slide guitar (witness track 3, 'Rise to Me',) the first single, ''Down By the Water' takes on an Americana, almost country twang, and 'All Arise' also has something of a saloon feel to it. I couldn't help but get the feeling when listening to 'This is Why We Fight' that The Smiths' influence was sneaking in as well... so I wasn't surprised to read that the album name may well just be in homage to The Smiths' "The Queen is Dead".
In many respects this album takes everything I have always loved about The Decemberists and added elements from the folksy, country sounds that I can't get enough of at the moment. It was love at first listen. I rarely have time to listen to music when I'm travelling, except if I find time for a run - Ttis was the first album I've listened to from start-to-finish in 13 days, and it was a total treat and food for the travel-weary soul.