The Decemberists have a reputation that they both earned and was put upon them, of a steam-punk indie-collective, the stereotype of Portland hipsters – basically a musical Portlandia before Portlandia. But Portlandia just ended, the well-meaning liberalism and quirkiness of the Obama years giving way to the clusterfuck that is today. The Decemberists had already been moving away from that caricature in 2015’s more accessible What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (QRO review), and largely stick to the beautiful amid this terrible on I’ll Be Your Girl.
Colin Meloy’s wry take is very much present on Girl, starting with the brightening cry against failure opener, “Once in My Life”, and perfected in “Everything Is Awful”, plus the fun lo-fi swing-garage of “We All Die Young”. There are also synth moments for a very un-synthetic band in “Cutting Stone” and “Severed”, but they are integrated well. “Sucker’s Prayer”, meanwhile, feels almost like a seventies easy-rock story-telling piece, a-la Randy Newman – and the titular closer is exactly what you want a song by The Decemberists named “I’ll Be Your Girl” to be. Plus, there is still The Decemberists’ march forward (“Starwatcher” and the galloping “Tripping Along”), plus the almost requisite long, sad, intricate journey in “Rusalka, Rusalka / Wild Rushes”.
The Decemberists were never quite their stereotype, even at their most Portlandia moments (and they are from there), but also never strove to break it. I’ll Be Your Girl sees them carry their own way into this new age.