Perhaps not quite the second coming of Neutral Milk Hotel as has been previously stated (see Salon.com), the Decemberists could be mistaken for a lithium-induced Jeff Magnum side-project, one with the requisite strings, accordions and creepy narratives, but containing a focused pop sensibility. And more so than NMH, you can sing along. In fact, that seems to be singer Colin Meloy’s major intention throughout much of the band’s sophomore full length, Her Majesty The Decemberists — bombastic choruses and rampant lyrical repetition will make this a car-trip favorite for the Elephant 6 set.
"Shanty for the Arethusa," the opening track, is a lush and haunting mini-epic, setting a dark tone that is unmatched throughout the remainder of the record. "Tell you’re daughters not to walk the streets alone toni-ight," Meloy’s nasal voice croons over accordion and several jarring halts. "Billy Liar" begins the onslaught of piano/guitar/strings/sing-alongs that is the majority of the albumï¿½s midsection, highlighted by "The Bachelor and the Bride" and the "The Chimbley Sweet," which evokes the early 1900s parlor images the band suggests in the photo in the album’s insert.
Lyrically, Meloy shares some fascinations with Mr. Magnum. "The Soldiering Life" is a first-person account of World War I Belgian trench combat, focusing on the devote friendship between soldiers. "An ocean’s gargled vomit on the shore" and other phrases are along the lines of Neutral Milk afterthoughts, like on "Song for Myla Goldberg": "Listen in /As shin-kicked Jim / Relates his story sad / About a boy / Who kicked on ’til / His shins were all but rubber bands." Ultimately, Magnum and Meloy share a sensibility for the bizarre and intimate moments throughout history, and turn these characters and concepts into beautiful, sad and scary accounts to bounce off their intricate compositions.
The band is primarily about aesthetics. The music — accordion waltzes, acoustic guitar, light smatterings of analog synths — combines with these varied tales of misfits, sailors and soldiers. So it’s no surprise when a song titled "I Was Meant for the Stage" turns up. By the end it is clear that the Decemberists have created a strong, focused follow-up to their debut, 2002’s Cataways and Cutouts. Moving the band to the forefront of the Kill Rock Stars roster, Her Majesty is one of the best records this year.