Music Reviews
I'll Be Your Girl

The Decemberists I'll Be Your Girl

(Capitol Records) Rating - 8/10

The Decemberists have been riding steady for the last few years. Their two previous albums hewed pretty close to a comfortable folk-rock style. Those records had many great songs but nothing unexpected. I’ll Be Your Girl is the band’s most ambitious release since The Hazards of Love. Through the incorporation of electronic and synth elements, the group adds a new color to their palette and uses it excellently.

Nowhere is this success more apparent than in the opener, Once In My Life. It starts off with a straightforward acoustic riff that could’ve fit on any past Decemberists album. But then the drums kick in, leading to the best synth melody The Cure never wrote. Like that band’s top line material, it makes the song uplifting but with touches of melancholy. Severed is tied together by a Kraftwek-esque electronic pulse, which mixes well with a rough electric guitar and a sharp drum groove. Cutting Stone combines a classical folk song with sparkling 80s synths. The gentle setting is subverted by Colin Meloy’s dark lyrics, where the cutting stone is a weapon of endless violence as he sings: “Wandering, I chanced upon / A wayward child lost anon / And when he laid across my chest / My cutting stone it did the rest.”

Not every track wades into electronic territory. There are plenty of more traditional, strong Decemberists songs to enjoy here. Starwatcher finds Meloy yelping over a heavy military beat, calling out “Hold your ground.” Your Ghost brings to mind an updated take on The Infanta. They both have a propulsive, upbeat vibe, though this track adds in some fantastic background singing and a harpsichord solo. Everything is Awful also has catchy interplay between Meloy’s voice and the backing vocals, though the lyrics are a bit too on-the-nose.

The Decemberists don’t limit the strive for new sounds to synths, though. We All Die Young is the closest this band has gotten to The Black Keys. A bluesy bass rubs up against a fuzzbox guitar riff, with Meloy’s voice muffled against the music. Throw in a squealing sax solo and you’ve got an album highlight. The title track is a breezy acoustic jam that flips the concept of being someone’s man on its head. Backing instrumentation has a mid-60s Beach Boys vibe, but more mellowed out.

The most ambitious song on I’ll Be Your Girl is Rusalka, Rusalka / Wild Rushes. Its two parts work together despite vastly different moods. Rusalka, Rusalka is a dark thunderstorm, with slow-stomping drums and a mournful synth line. It’s a lonely cigarette at night in the rain under neon lights. Wild Rushes conjures up the opposite vibe, bringing happier times with springy acoustic guitars and an easy-going nature. It’s lying in the sun next to a creek with a lover at your side.

That song marks a return to the type of epics that The Decemberists haven’t pursued in nearly a decade. But it also sounds nothing like those earlier tunes. Meloy said in a Reddit AMA that it was the last track written for the record and could suggest a direction for the next one. It shows a refreshed band, back on the chase to find new ways of songwriting, with strong melodies and intriguing lyrics remaining a constant. I’ll Be Your Girl is the start of this new chapter, and it’s a wonderful place for them to begin again.