At the beginning of the year, The Decemberists dropped their eighth album, I’ll Be Your Girl. The album signalled a tonal shift from the indie folk rock the Portland five-piece frequently presents and instead traded it for a synth pop crusade. The John Congleton produced Traveling On EP goes back to basics, but still utilizes a few sonic tricks that were featured on I’ll Be Your Girl. The opening track Down on the Knuckle kicks off the EP with a sombre, but upbeat dance tune—it’s classic Decemberists. They’ve always been a band that prides themselves on cloaking lyrics drenched in sorrow with catchy, jumpy instrumentals. Unfortunately, none of the songs, to me, have staying power. The Decemberists are good at making songs, but it usually feels like more of the same old formula.
The second track I Will Not Say Your Name, however, is a heavy, distorted beast that sounds more like classic Black Sabbath with its minor keyed guitar line and wispy presence. It sounds more at home with the band’s work on 2009’s The Hazards of Love. The conclusion is also fantastic with its darkened blues piano line that takes the song from a quiet downer to an odd ball saloon feel.
The full band version of Tripping Along—the was first featured as a solo piece on I’ll Be Your Girl—isn’t really needed at all. It doesn’t have the same passion as the original and feels like the band members just jumped on the track because they needed another offering to make the EP five songs instead of four.
Midlist Author sounds like a rip off of a piano ballad from The Beatles and there’s not much more to say about it. The title closing track Traveling On is probably the most powerful on the EP because it actually utilizes every member of the band instead of rehashing the too common Colin Melroy (lead singer) band equation. That might be why my appreciation for The Decemberists has depleted in recent years. Melroy is clearly the leader of the group, but he’s also all you really think of when The Decemberists’ name is brought up in conversation.
Review by Stephan Boissonneault