This is one of those discs that didn't do a lot for me the first time I listened to it. I think that after hearing their amazing debut release of Castaways And Cutouts, I was expecting something leaps and bounds beyond it, but even I didn't know what that meant. Upon further listens to Her Majesty The Decemberists, I realized that the group had made small changes to their sound, and that was indeed enough. Even if they're not doing anything that hasn't been done before musically, they're a unique band if only for the presense of one Colin Meloy, a guy who was either born in the wrong century or simply lives by the line "if you don't know your past, you're doomed to repeat it."
Okay, so there might not be any real life lessons to be learned in songs by The Decemberists, but it sure is refreshing (oddly so, given the antiquated language used) to hear Meloy singing about whalebone corsets and knickers, Japanese geisha's and clipper ships. He's one of those singers who writes narrative stories that are clever without being pretentious, and the music of the group has followed suit with every release that they've put out.
Amazingly enough, the album doesn't feel rushed at all despite it following rather quickly on the heels of their debut (which gathered acclaim literally months after it was released in the first place). The opening track of "Shanty For The Arethusa" weaves along drunkenly with accordian and desert-dry guitar before breaking into a slow, orchestrated gallop for the second half. "Los Angeles, I'm Yours" is a shuffling bittersweet ode to the city that mixes the gaudy with the grandeur and the shoddy with the solid. Musically, the track follows suit mixing overly sweet string parts alongside strummy guitars.
Although it may not seem so at first, the release is much more musically adventurous than their first release as well. Although it never strays from the path that the group treads so well, they mix slow-burners ("The Gymnast, High Above The Ground") with more straightforward orchestral pop tracks like "Song For Myla Goldberg." They even mix up the vocal duties a bit, adding a perfectly frail female counterpoint on the rollicking "The Chimbley Sweep."
And so, the group has gone and created another release that will most likely end up on my year-end list. "Red Right Ankle" is one of the most touching tracks that the group has done to date, and "As I Rise" closes things out with a lo-fi bar-room stomp. If you were a fan of their first disc, you're not going to go wrong here. Definitely not a one-trick band, I look forward to following the band from here out.