Things got only worse as the Decemberists grew more popular over the course of the next decade and perfected their even less funny Belle and Sebastian shtick. People like myself fell pretty hard (as I said, bad taste), delighting in their tales of fallen damsels, seafaring rogues, chimney sweeps, and, I dunno, art students from Portland with a Mac fetish or whoever their audience became. At one point, they put out an 18-minute single based on the great Irish mythological epic, Táin Bó Cúalnge. Not so easy to listen to at the club with your bros and get wasted. This was in essence the beginning of the era of NPR rock, the perfect soundtrack to shopping for organic produce at the co-op.
After 2003's genuinely fun Her Majesty the Decemberists and 2005's literary Picaresque, the band left indie stalwart Kill Rock Stars, signed to Capitol Records, and somehow started getting even more popular. And what's weirder, they started selling records. Long story short, now I have to hear that awful Mumford & Sons turd on the radio all the time, and you've got bars rocking the Bon Iver station on Pandora. Thanks a lot.
The Decemberists' latest, The King Is Dead, is another collection of jaunty, country-influenced folk indie, all well crafted and precisely played and really, really nice and good. It sounds as if they'd worked really hard on it. First single "Down by the Water" is the highest-charting radio song of their career. Critics are calling it homespun, rootsy, earthy, sturdy (?), breezy, sumptuous, and straight up, though I'm not sure whether they're talking about the record or a day spent out on the farm scrubbing a horse's balls. Which sounds as if it could be the basis for the band's next thematic excursion into Americana. What's more authentically American than a horse? Well, besides a gun.
So, fine, go out and get this record if you want, and put it in the cue with your Fleet Foxes, National, Blitzen Trapper, and Tallest Man on Earth records and all the other dozens of bands who care really hard about caring really hard. Eventually, this shit will cycle around and we'll get back to music that means something: music that doesn't mean anything.
THE DECEMBERISTS + WYE OAK | House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St, Boston | January 28-29 @ 8 pm | $29.50-$39.50 | 888.693.2583 or hob.com/boston