Record Review: The Decemberists’ “I’ll Be Your Girl”

Anyone who’s been cussed out by “Ben Franklin’s Song” knows Colin Meloy still has some poison left in his quill. But there’s a thunderbolt caveat—as catchy as the Decemberists make that Hamilton addendum, the lyrics were penned by Lin-Manuel Miranda. (And oh, what lyrics: “I am Poor Richard’s Almanack-writing Benjamin Fuckin’ Franklin!”)

Poor Colin’s Almanack hasn’t been quite the same since his Crane Wife flapped off. His finest offering since that Capitol-conquering opus, 2011’s The King Is Dead, forwent ornate storytelling and baroque instrumentation in favor of an Americana revolution, a salty hoedown sans frills. When the band did swaddle itself in the gabardine fabrics of olde, you could hear it swallowing its own tail. “June Hymn” is a ventricle-rending tune, but it’s “Red Right Ankle” from a different angle.

I’ll Be Your Girl answers an unposed question: Would you prefer more variations on the same themes, or risky stabs at a new one entirely? The King Is Dead proved the Decemberists’ erudite, radio-play vibe could jibe—even thrive—with unannotated folk/rock. This new LP proves no such definitive thing, except maybe that synthesizer anthems aren’t in this band’s wheelhouse. It’s often fun to hear them go for it, as on the high-contrast drama of “Cutting Stone” and severe lead single “Severed.” (Do stick around through the tonally serrated side two, which is stolen by some exquisitely bonkers backup-singer arrangements.)

What it’s missing is haunting songs—calamity songs, the kind of songs that used to proliferate on Decemberists albums like soot-smudged Victorian orphans. And no amount of Castlevania harpsichord or of Montreal choral carbonation can take their place.

—Noah Bonaparte Pais

Frightened Rabbit Released “The Midnight Organ Fight” A Decade Ago Today

A decade ago today, Frightened Rabbit released breakthrough sophomore album The Midnight Organ Fight. In fact, we named it the seventh best LP of 2008, saying, “How did Frightened Rabbit go from U.K. indie-rock upstart to author of one of the year’s top albums? Tiny changes: simple guitar melodies distilled more than single-malt Scotch; a quivering, mouth-filling brogue cracking at the edges with naked emotion; and sexually charged songs beating strong with a bleeding heart. (Thesis couplet: ‘You won’t find love in a hole/It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm.’) In lesser hands, lyrics as uneasily honest, direct and revealing as these could have been a deal-breaker. Coming from the brothers Hutchison, they are a revelation.”

Want even more of MAGNET on Frightened Rabbit and The Midnight Organ Fight? Read our initial review of the album from earlier in 2008. Even though technically it was the Year of the Rat, 2008 was also the Year of the Rabbit.

Frightened Rabbit: The Midnight Organ Fight [Fat Cat]

In The News: Johnny Marr, Matthew Sweet, Joseph Arthur & Peter Buck, Gang Gang Dance, Gruff Rhys, Manic Street Preachers, Fall, Megadeth, Chrissie Hynde And More

Heeeeere’s Johnny! Smiths co-founder, former MAGNET cover star and one of the greatest guitarists currently walking the planet Johnny Marr returns June 15 with Call The Comet (New Voodoo), his third solo album. Oscillate wildly, kids of all ages … Power-pop music-making machine Matthew Sweet follows last year’s Tomorrow Forever with Tomorrow’s Daughter, out May 18 via Honeycomb Hideout/MRI/Sony … MAGNET mainstays Joseph Arthur and Peter Buck have joined forces for the aptly titled Arthur Buck, out via New West on June 15 … Apparently, Gang Gang Dance has scratched its seven-year itch, and 4AD will issue Kazuashita (the band’s first since 2011’s Eye Contact) on June 22 … Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys is readying Babelsberg, his fifth solo album, out June 8 on Rough Trade … Black Moth Super Rainbow‘s Panic Blooms is out May 4 via Rad Cult … Tindersticks frontman Stuart A. Staples is back with Arrhythmia (City Slang, June 15), his first solo album in 13 years … Out now on Shornday/The Orchard is International Blue, the 13th album (and first in four years) from Manic Street Preachers … Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Brian Chase has started avant-garde-leaning label Chaikin, whose first release, Chase’s Drums And Drones: Decade (out June 15), is a 144-page book containing three CDs and detailed liner notes about “just intonation” and the process behind how Chase created the music … Kamasi Washington sounds like he very successfully avoided the dreaded sophomore slump with Heaven And Earth (Young Turks, June 22) … The legendary Last Poets are back to mark their 50th anniversary on May 18 with the 10-track Understand What Black Is (Studio Rockers), their first album in more than two decades … Seattle’s Thunderpussy releases its highly anticipated self-titled debut via Stardog/Republic on May 25 … The Fall‘s 19th album, 1997’s Levitate, gets the reissue treatment (two-CD and three-LP sets) on May 25 courtesy of Cherry Red … Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good: The Final Kill is an expanded and remastered reissue of Megadeth‘s landmark debut LP, out June 8 on Century Media/Legacy and available on CD and as a two-LP set (including three different limited-edition runs) … On June 8, Omnivore will reissue One Night At Morey’s: 1968, a live set from four decades ago by session-guitar extraordinaire Dennis Coffey … Power to the pop: On June 1, Real Gone will issue Cheap Trick‘s The Epic Archive Vol. 2 (1980-1983) (16 songs, including live tracks, alternate versions and soundtrack contributions) and the Quick‘s 1976 Mercury debut Mondo Deco (the 10 original tracks as well as 11 bonus cuts) … Cinco No. 2: The Second Five LPs compiles, well, the second five LPs—1979’s Degüello, 1981’s El Loco, 1983’s Eliminator, 1985’s Afterburner and 1990’s Recycler—by Rock And Roll Hall Of Famers ZZ Top, out June 1 as a five-LP boxed set via Warner Bros. … The Alone With Chrissie Hynde DVD (Eagle Rock, May 25) lets you spend some quality time with Rock And Roll Hall Of Famer and Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hynde in Paris, London, New York, Nashville and her Akron, Ohio, hometown.

Essential New Music: Tania Chen With Thurston Moore, David Toop, And Jon Leidecker’s “John Cage: Electronic Music For Piano”

The title of Electronic Music For Piano isn’t the only paradoxical thing about it. The score, which updates an earlier set of piano pieces, specifies materials (piano, feedback) and gives instructions (“Consideration of imperfections in the silence in which the music is played”) but provides little guarantee of what you’re going to hear. Tania Chen, a veteran improviser and interpreter of composers like John Cage and Morton Feldman, understood that Cage was really prescribing a process and the tools to realize it.

This realization of the score comprises three duets (with guitarist Thurston Moore, multi-instrumentalist David Toop and electronic musician Jon Leidecker) which are sequenced and mixed together in a partially chance-determined way. It lasts more than an hour, but its discontinuous structure provokes the listener to deal with its ever-changing constellation of clanks, hums and notes second by second.

—Bill Meyer