Thanks to SNL alum Fred Armisen and Sleater Kinney frontwoman Carrie Brownstein’s cult TV series Portlandia, the sleepy northwestern city of Portland, Oregon has garnered a bit of a reputation in recent years as a hipster haven where the craft beer flows freely, the word “artisan” appears proudly before all manner of handmade products and the solution to almost any problem is to “put a bird on it”. Aside from its newfound sense of ironic self-awareness, Portland has always been a thriving music hub producing acts as diverse as Everclear, She & Him and the subjects of this article, The Decemberists.
Atypically ambitious for a folkie quintet of their ilk, their six studio albums to date have encompassed everything from wry Spanish idiom on 2005’s Picaresque to the nuanced, makeshift prog-rock of The Hazards of Love in 2009 and with their seventh, titled What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World slated for release early next year, they return this month with its first single Make You Better.
Teaming up once more with longtime producer Tucker Martine (R.E.M., Sufjan Stevens), it sees The Decemberists return to that irresistible sense of melody displayed on earlier records like 2003’s debut Castaways and Cutouts. There’s a nostalgic feel of overcast melancholy to the song, which is punctuated by Colin Meloy’s unmistakable adenoidal baritone and impeccable lyricism.
There’s a reserved, yet undeniable pop sensibility running through Make You Better that seems to have been lacking in the groups last few releases, possibly brought on by some recent high-profile appearances on shows like Portlandia and Parks and Recreation, it seems as though with their latest single, The Decemberists have struck an effective balance between their at times impenetrable “indie-cool” reputation and something a little more palatable to a larger audience.