Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Decemberists- Always The Bridesmaid EP

Rating: 6.8
Released: Dec. 2, 2008, Capitol Records

The Decemberists have carved themselves quite a niche. They've pumped out highly arranged folk rock for years now, marrying artsy prog songs and serious pop instincts.

The band can sound big and it can sound small, a fitting background for frontman Colin Meloy's warbly singing voice.

It's caught the attention of scores of brainy hipsters and others who long to hear words like fontanelle in their rock songs.

2006's The Crane Wife was a marvel of songcraft and artistic commitment, a major step above 2005's excellent Picaresque. Few major bands would base an entire album on a Japanese folk story and succeed for it.

If the rumors are true, then the band's forthcoming LP, slated for a Marsh 2009 release, should be another leap, supposedly combining lots of guitars in a modern rock opera. Sounds appealing, if only because The Decemberists pull off geeky pop in a way that is sometimes triumphant (see the last two songs on The Crane Wife).

That said, the recently released Always the Bridesmaid EP can be a little underwhelming, possibly because it's a collection of singles.

The six tracks here retreat to the melodic, disarming rock that made Picaresque fun, although they're not quite as engaging, at least for the moment (The Decemberists are a grower).

"Valerie Plame" is a great start. It's probably one of the most infectious songs this band has written, thanks to terrific melody, Chicago-like horns and swirling accordion.

The Beatles outro is a reminder that the band really just wants a good singalong.

"O New England" and "I'm Sticking With You" are a little more forgettable, but not for lack of trying. The latter track is funny and cute, tossing out such nuggets as "I'm sticking with you/cause I'm made out of glue," but I'm not sure that the song really sticks in a good way.

"Record Year" and "Raincoat Song" close the EP on a strong, bittersweet note.

You're left with a feeling that these songs are toss-offs, a way to clear out the attic before the new album arrives. Still, toss-offs from a great band make for good listening.

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