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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Decemberists get better in ‘Make You Better’

Published: November 7, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.

This week, The Decemberists released their first new single in almost four years. “Make You Better” is the first track to be released off of their upcoming album, to be titled “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World.” The album is set to be released mid-January 2015.

For long-time Decemberists fans, “Make You Better” provides a sigh of relief and happiness as the band seems to have abandoned the country-inspired twang that their last full album “The King is Dead” carried.

The song starts off with a simple guitar and lead singer Colin Meloy, soon breaking out into the full band—fiddle, piano, bass and all. “I want you, thin fingers, I wanted you, thin fingernails,” Meloy begins. The song has all of the detailed charm of any Decemberists classic, though definitely in a more mature fashion. Lyric fanatics still see Meloy’s signature wordplay with lines utilizing “twinges” and “tattletales” and a “perfect paramour.” What listeners may (or may not) miss, however, are the dead babies, pirates and gadabouts of The Decemberists past.

The band seems to realize that they’re growing up, as the chorus of the new single declares, “But we’re not so starry eyed anymore.” And it just might be true. Having been on hiatus for the past few years, members of The Decemberists have continued to experiment out in the world. While Colin Meloy attempted to find success flying solo, fellow band members Chris Funk, Nate Query and Jenny Conlee built up their other band, Black Prairie. Once a side project, Black Prairie officially legitimized themselves with their third full-length album “Fortune,” released earlier this year. After only releasing their first album in 2010, Black Prairie took advantage of the time off of being The Decemberists. Now, having played at gigs as big as Newport Folk Festival and written a soundtrack for Jon Mooallem’s book “Wild Ones,” Black Prairie is on the map.

As his bandmates delved deeper into the music world in the past four years, band leader Colin Meloy explored a different creative world, writing a series of children’s books. “Wildwood” came out in 2011 and was a New York Times Bestseller. Meloy has released two subsequent novels in the series since then, including “Under Wildwood” and “Wildwood Imperium.”

After spending some time apart, though, it is nice to see the gang back together again and coming out with music that is a little wiser, but still as personal and catchy as their old classics. Fans will be happy looking through the track titles of the album, even though they can’t listen yet. Even the names of the songs echo a more sophisticated version of The Decemberists’ flair. From “The Singer Addresses His Audience,” to “Anti-Summersong,” each of the 14 tracks has a hint of charm and is begging to be listened to.

“Make You Better” is available on iTunes, with “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World” available for pre-order. The band will be on tour in Europe starting in February 2015.