Music

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

Photo: Holly Andres

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


Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Music

Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.