The Decemberists - What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Decemberists

What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (2015)


2015 is a big year for indie rock, with the returns of Modest Mouse and Death Cab For Cutie, as well as strong showings from The Mountain Goats and Arcade Fire’s Will Butler. Surprisingly however, they’ve all been completely outclassed and outshined by the Decemberists, who have just crafted one of, if not their best album ever a full decade and a half into their career with What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World.

The album opens with the aptly titled, fourth-wall breaking “The Singer Addresses His Audience.” It’s a fun, tongue in cheek way to begin an album that hides some surprisingly dark lyrics behind its cheery facade. The song builds andf builds, gradually increasing tension until we’re thrown into the uber-catchy, horn-filled “Cavalry Captain.” Two songs in, both fantastic. The next two are even better however.

“Philomena” is a bit of a coming of age/love story, told in three minutes with a bouncy, late-Beatles flourish. “Make You Better” is the first single, and it was a great choice. It’s as close as the Decemberists get to straight up power-pop, and in a smarter world it would be a number one hit. It’s a better Weezer single than Weezer have written in ten years.

The album’s momentum is slowed a bit in the middle, but it comes roaring back with “The Wrong Year”, which possesses the catchiest guitar lick you’ll hear all year. Seriously, it’s impossible to stop humming after you hear it. It’s hard to pick highlights on an album this consistently solid, but “The Wrong Year” is one of them. “12-17-12“ is another. The song’s lyrics lend the album its title and would have been a perfect way to wrap up the album. Actual closer, “A Beginning Song” is a fine track on its own, but doesn’t pack the powerful punch that “12-17-12“ does and would have been better served somewhere else in the tracklist.

Other than a few minor sequencing issues, and a couple too many acoustic songs in the middle (they could lose “Carolina Low” and “Lake Song” and the album wouldn’t be any weaker for it,) What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, is easily the Decemberists’ strongest album since Picaresque, and at least so far, one of the best indie rock albums of the year.