It would have been easy to write off The Decemberists. Over the years, the Portland, OR band had made a name for itself with its unique brand of hyper-literate, anachronistic folk-rock. Albums like 2003’s Her Majesty and 2005’s Picaresque brimmed with sweeping tales of doomed love, epic blood feuds, and lonely chimbley sweeps.
But by the release of the group’s fifth LP, 2009’s The Hazards of Love, it appeared that the five-piece had finally jumped the proverbial shark. A meandering, overwrought concept album, the operatic Hazards alienated fans with its ponderous story lines and proggy self-indulgence. Yet just when it seemed certain that the Decemberists would forever disappear up their own rectum, they released The King Is Dead. Continue reading…
The Avett Brothers are all about feeling. On Emotionalism, their last proper full length, the Avetts certainly didn’t shy away from feeling; they celebrated it. The songs from Emotionalism were mostly led by banjo, upright bass, occasional strings and the just-twangy-enough vocals of one or both brothers. Everything about that setup said these guys were playing bluegrass music, but what came out of the speakers felt different.
That element, that unique style of bluegrass that sounded more like an alt-country-influenced indie band, clearly set the Avetts apart from anything I’d ever heard before. But there was more to them than that. There were also those straightforward and heartfelt lyrics, melodies that felt nostalgic and comforting, and an overall sense that these guys grew up loving American music and wanted to make it their own, to take it somewhere new while keeping everything that was great about it intact. Continue reading