With seven albums under their belt in the space of fourteen years there is no denying the fact that The Decemberists are devoted musicians. Their most recent album What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World was released in January of this year and with Florasongs released just nine months later, the Portland five-piece are not short of musical content to say the least.
The Decemberists have a varied sound that strives to move beyond the minimalistic nature of an acoustic band which makes it deliberately difficult to place them within one genre. The Florasongs EP, picking up the remnants of What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, is a bluesy, folk, piano and accordion infused delight with heavier, more lo-fi sounds stuck in here and there just to make sure we don’t get too comfortable.
Frontman Colin Meloy has a particularly effortless sounding voice that works very much to his favour. You get the feeling that his singing voice isn’t too far away from his speaking voice yet he manages to pull it off brilliantly. Meloy’s singing and The Decemberists overall sound could be described as Michael Stipe meets Billie Joe Armstrong in a collaboration between Villagers and Fleet Foxes.
First track ‘Why Would I Now?’ mulls over difficulties within a relationship with repeated, seemingly futile questioning. The chorus chimes “I will never be your familiar soul” with backing vocals from pianist Jenny Conlee. These backing vocals alongside the inclusion of violin towards the closing of the song all bring an emotional level and showcases from the onset the variations of instrumentals that the band are capable of meshing together for an overall pleasing sound.
Accordian imbued ‘Riverswim’ is a much slower track that feels as though it should be reserved almost exclusively for having a few drinks with friends on a winter’s night. This song stands out as one that would be particularly impressive performed live, preferably in a small, intimate venue.
‘Fits & Starts’ is the point in Florasongs where The Decemberists throw a curve ball with a lo-fi sound and heavy guitar riffs that contrasts so sharply with the first two tracks – you would be forgiven for believing it was a different band altogether. Extremely reminiscent of The Vaccines through its fast paced guitar, ‘Fits and Starts’ is exceptionally jarring with the rest of the EP. This holds up especially true when the abundantly REM-esque ‘The Harrow and The Haunted’ is up next. It is probably the emotional pinnacle of the EP through its slow and sad piano. The sheer variation between these two tracks simply displays the musical talent of The Decemberists through how they are willing to experiment with their sound in this way.
Final track ‘Stateside’ feels like a synthesizing of the aforementioned heavier sound of ‘Fits & Starts’ with their more folk imbued tendencies. Simplistic, melodic and undeniably catchy, ‘Stateside’ feels like the closing, anthem-like track of a summer festival through its simplicity. Only using guitars and vocals right the way through, its emotional parameters render the song particularly notable and it makes for the perfect track to close the ambitious and varied Florasongs EP.