>> The Decemberists' EP ‘Traveling On,’ offers a window into the routes that the band could have taken on their full-length release ‘I’ll Be Your Girl,’ and revisits the band’s indie-folk origins.
The Decemberists' latest release starts off strong with the opening track “Down on the Knuckle,” showcasing the power of the energetic alt-rock ensemble directly out of the gate. Captivating the band’s optimistic tonality in the breaking piano chords of “Midlist Authors,” frontman Colin Meloy offers authentically raw vocals paired with a jubilant mishmash of barebones instrumentation giving the song an air of resemblance to the delightful melodies of Jens Lekman. This cheerful track acts as a reminder of Meloy’s adept lyrical abilities as a songwriter, tackling the tales of B-grade writers with winsome honesty and a mastered level of tact: “Strolled along the seaside amid all the vulgar dreary crowds / And a boy cries for his dog / Stolen by a riptide / His mother explains he surely drowned / As he weeps upon a log / And all my readers sing, oh / Midlist author / You're never the best but you're never the worst / Why even bother?” Those who have felt nostalgic for The Decemberists' indie-folk background can discover a revitalization of the band’s foundation in the self-titled closing track “Traveling On.” Driven by a whimsical yet melancholic guitar riff which ebbs and flows throughout the song, “Traveling On” features the sweetest spots of Meloy’s vocals, transporting the listener back to the folk-laden melodies of the band’s first release “Castaways and Cutouts.”
While The Decemberists are known for their rambling songwriting style and hyperrealistic lyrics, ‘Traveling On,’ lacks consistent hooks to ground the roundabout nature of tracks such as “I Will Not Say Your Name.” Reaching slightly below the seven-minute mark, “I Will Not Say Your Name,” wanders without intention and employs an endlessly repetitive guitar riff which removes any semblance of variety in this already lengthy addition to the EP. A band that has been around for twenty years is expected to stray from their roots to offer a new sound and artistic approach to their musical equation. However, Colin Meloy’s ability to weave intricate and resoundingly human narratives on releases such as ‘Castaways and Cutouts,’ and ‘The Crane Wife,’ is an intrinsic part of The Decemberists' magic-- and it’s something that feels critically underrepresented in ‘Traveling On.’ Despite the upbeat and robust cohesion of the band’s instrumentation on the opening track “Down on the Knuckle,” the song falls short in delivering an inventive set of lyrics to drive and encourage further listening of the album.
‘Traveling On’ is an EP of B-Sides giving a glimpse into the variety of directions that the band could have taken on their recently released full-length album, ‘I’ll Be Your Girl.’ While ‘Traveling On’ may appeal to a Decemberists’ super-fan, the average listener could be put off by unnecessary tracks such as the full-band recreation of “Tripping Along,” which felt dangerously similar to the solo version performed by Meloy on ‘I’ll Be Your Girl.’ For an EP of B-Sides, this is a solid release-- but as a stand-alone artistic contribution, ‘Traveling On’ doesn’t seem to offer the set of powerful and poignant songs expected of this seasoned group of musicians. 3.4/5 <<