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The Decemberists: Of Ambition And Arias
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The Decemberists: Of Ambition And Arias


The Decemberists are a rock band whose approach can feel a little out of its time. Their songs are full of old-English diction with chimbley sweeps and barrow boys. But they fast-forward on their latest project, a classic 1970s style concept album. Our critic, Will Hermes, has this review.

WILL HERMES: Once upon a time, albums were more than just iPod playlists of atomized MP3 files. They were worlds you could disappear into with vague, largely incomprehensible storylines that you could ponder for hours while playing air-guitar in your bedroom. Clearly, the Decemberists are nostalgic for those days.

(Soundbite of song, "The Hazards of Love")

Mr. COLIN MELOY (Vocalist, The Decemberists): (Singing) My true love went riding out in white and green and gray, past the pale of office wall where she was wanting to stray. And there she came upon a white and wounded fawn, singing, oh, the hazards of love.

HERMES: "The Hazards of Love" is the name of the new Decemberists' record, and of course, the wounded fawn that Margaret stoops to help soon turns out to be something else entirely. Her story, which seems to involve maternal jealousy, paternal love, restless spirits and an evil villain, is told in elaborate prog-rock fashion.

Themes are stated and returned to, and guest singers join bandleader Colin Meloy to enact various parts. It's somewhere between a do-it-yourself indie-rock musical and a full-blown rock opera. Although, when Shara Worden of the group My Brightest Diamond becomes the wrathful monarch, it starts recalling Wagner or at least the acid-queen bit from The Who's "Tommy."

(Soundbite of song, "The Queen's Rebuke/The Crossing")

Ms. SHARA WORDEN (Vocalist, My Brightest Diamond): (Singing) And I was the soul who took pity and stole him away and gave him the form of a fawn to inhabit by day. Bright as day. It's my day.

HERMES: But the secret weapon of "The Hazards of Love" is, as you just heard, guitarist Chris Funk, who fills the record with nearly every color a plucked or strummed string can provide. He plays hammer dulcimer and autoharp, pedal steel and banjo, in addition to heavy electric guitar. There are also synthesizers, harpsichords, orchestral string arrangements and even a children's choir, singing the part of the vengeful ghosts.

(Soundbite of song, "The Hazards of Love")

Unidentified Children (Singers): (Singing) But father don't you fear, your children all are here. Singing, oh, the hazards of love.

HERMES: Sure, there's some camp in the presentation, but the love of all the musical tropes here is so palpable, even the most overblown moments feel emotionally sincere. There probably won't be any hit singles off "The Hazards of Love" because the record is less about pop hooks than about recapturing the idea of an album as a whole experience, one that you take time to savor like a full-course meal. Maybe the record will launch the musical equivalent of the slow-food movement. If it does, you can sign me up.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: That's Will Hermes reviewing "The Hazards of Love" from The Decemberists. Last night, the band premiered the album live at the South by Southwest music festival. You can hear the concert and download a podcast at

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