Photo: Holly Andres

The Decemberists Head in a Synthpop Direction with “Severed” (Singles Going Steady)

On "Severed", the Decemberists start a party in the desert as the world burns.

Steve Horowitz: In a recent interview with the New York Times, author Phillip Roth recollected the words of pundit H.L. Mencken about democracy in America, “It is the worship of jackals by jackasses.” When the Decemberists sing, “I was born to a jackal”, the accompanying video makes it clear the band is referring to President Donald Trump. The songs’ lyrics may be somewhat vague, but the notion that our head has been severed from the body politic comes across clearly. The lilting voice in which the lines are sung and the serene way the music is played suggests a feeling of helplessness. That does not seem to be intended ironically. The damage has already been done. The only solace we find is with others who share the same consciousness, like the work songs of the enslaved that make the burden easier to share. [8/10]

Adriane Pontecorvo: Are the days of nasal baroque pop finally winding down? “Severed”, with its new wave synth sounds and high stakes grooves, maybe the first Decemberists song that sounds timely instead of nostalgic; along with the politically charged video, it brings an urgency to the group’s catalogue. The group could not have made a better move, and “Severed” breaks with the status quo, driving the Decemberists forward with new sonic power. [8/10]

Chris Ingalls: For purists who wonder what happened to the twee-folk of past Decemberists albums, relax. A solid decade-and-a-half into their careers, Colin Meloy and company have decided to stretch out into a more electronic setting, and guess what? It works. The songwriting is still solid, and the synth-heavy atmosphere is a welcome change of pace. To be fair, the band raised more than a few eyebrows in 2006 with the prog leanings and extended song-suites of The Crane Wife, so another experimental leap isn’t all that odd. It’s a good song that has me pining for the rest of this upcoming album. [8/10]

Jedd Beaudoin: Sounds like an undiscovered Guided By Voices side project. Love the vocal performance and the dark guitar/synth parts. Floats and stings like some deep pop cut from 1986 and that is a real compliment. [9/10]

Tristan Kneschke: Indie rockers the Decemberists are back ahead of their eighth full-length album “I’ll Be Your Girl” with the video for “Severed.” The clip utilizes color and grayscale contrast for a vibrant, kaleidoscopic vision that eases the violent lyrics. It just would’ve been nice to include some more variety in the video, as large portions are copied and pasted verbatim. But this is surely a result of a compressed animation schedule, a craft that already takes an unholy amount of time to complete. [6/10]

John Garratt: I used to live next door to a guy who owned a now-defunct rock club. Mention the Decemberists around him, and his eyes would roll. “‘Meet me on my vast veranda,'” he would chide, suggesting that Colin Moy’s brainy and impenetrable lyrics did the music no favors. Now, I’m left wondering how whispers “alight” as I listen to droning synthpop-lite that never finds second gear. “Severed” is a good example of how a change in musical style doesn’t neatly translate to artistic progression. “Don’t you get clever” indeed. [4/10]

Paul Carr: On “Severed”, the Decemberists start a party in the desert as the world burns. Over a rudimentary, circling synth line and streaks of kick-ass, distorted guitar the band brings a bit of colour and cynicism to festivities. Throughout, lead singer Colin Meloy comes across like a Wild West gunslinger in the midst of an existentialist meltdown on lines like “I was born to a jackal / I was born in a whiteout / Gonna smother you all til I choke you.” It’s a thrilling tweak of the band’s signature sound that comfortably slots in next to their finest work. [8/10]

Robert Evers: An interesting gem of a song, falling prey to that synthy influence a lot of artists are doing now, but with success. Definitely sounds like “Not Decemberists”, but I still like it. Interesting video, kind of a new thing for the Decemberists. The lettering looks the same for them but otherwise charting new waters. [9/10]

Christopher Thiessen: There’s some dark political undertones on this track. Although, I guess they stop being “undertones” when you put a demon Donald Trump on your music video. As for the track, the dark synth lines and Western-inspired guitar leads suggest a cold, arid landscape created by a tyrannical leader declaring, “I alone am the answer / I alone will make wrongs right.” [6/10]

SCORE: 7.33