First Listen: The Decemberists – The Hazards Of Love

Last time out Portland's The Decemberists thrilled the world with The Crane Wife, which we duly awarded five stars back at the start of 2007. 

Even those who'd thought them too literate, too arch, too damned clever for their own good, had to agree that they'd made the record of their career.

So where do they go after that (and a spot of campaigning in their home state of Oregon for Barack Obama)?

The answer comes on 23rd March when the band, fronted by Colin Meloy, unveil their fifth album. It's called The Hazards Of Love and is again released through Rough Trade.  It weighs in at a hefty 17 tracks.

Anyone who tells you 2009 is only going to be about girls repeating themselves (however catchily) with Tenori-ons ought to be reminded that big, dramatic guitar parts – acoustic and electric – are still out there and, in this instance, being used to thrilling effect.

Of course The Decemberists aren't a mere 'guitar band'; they're much more than that, with fantastical lyrics – this time about a girl called Margaret, her lover and a forest queen – and intricate textures in the vocal and instrumental parts. And despite wide-of-the-mark comparisons with Neutral Milk Hotel and Arcade Fire, their track The Perfect Wife 2, from The Crane Wife, was given remix treatment from Junior Boys and producer-du-jour Diplo.  

On first listen The Hazards Of Love reveals itself as an album in the truest sense of the word, an epic record that demands you sit down and listen to it from beginning to end. And then go back and start again.

It is definitely going to be one of March's essential releases. A full review will – but of course – follow.

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