After observing the federally mandated waiting period, I am finally ready to name my album of the year for 2009.
There’s not a lot if suspense here, at least in my mind. All along I thought the Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love would be pretty hard to top, but I had to hear a few other things (Devendra Banhart’s latest, e.g.) before I could be sure. Now, with February safely in the rear view and springtime in the offing, it’s time to make it official.
I was inexplicably drawn to this album even before its release, despite never having been much of a Decemberists fan before. Loved the title, loved the cover. Bought it on the day of release, found it a bit much to process at first, but it grew on me quickly. Partly I just admire the sheer ambition of it; in a time when everyone seems to be thinking small, as downloading pushes the music industry back toward a single-oriented mindset, Colin Meloy and co. have the gall to release a full-fledged concept album/rock opera, 60 minutes of music where the songs bleed into each other without pause.
That wouldn’t matter, of course, if the music sucked. Which it does not. Despite a less-than-clear narrative, a penchant for overuse of highfalutin’ vocabulary, and occasional leanings toward prog-rock, The Hazards of Love just works, moving from strength to strength. The sense of dynamics is extraordinary, with folky elements nicely balanced by some stomping rhythms and downright metallic guitar. There’s harpsichord, banjo, autoharp, guest vocalists, a children’s choir, and God knows what else in there. You really feel like you’ve been taken on a journey by the time it’s over, and how many albums these days pull that off?
A couple months later, thanks to Cecil’s misfortune (sorry, Cecil, and thanks), I got to see them perform the album live at Oakland’s venue of choice, the Fox Theater. This was something of a peak experience, the kind of show that puts you in a good mood for the rest of the week. It was also at this show that I became acquainted with the album’s backstory: It began as simply a title, inspired by a similarly named EP by an revered but obscure English folksinger named Anne Briggs. I love that kind of shit.
I’m listening to The Hazards of Love right now, and it is blowing my mind all over again. Why belabor the point any further? Hooray for the Decemberists, I say.