Being a music writer has its share of fringe benefits. You get lots of great freebies, get to talk to your favorite musicians, get paid for doing what you love (I didn’t say paid well, however) and can do it all from home. But what’s even more rewarding is the excitement that comes from discovering new bands. In the fall of 2003, I stumbled upon a little band called Decibully, made up of former members of Camden and The Promise Ring, which on the whole was greater than the two bands it was spawned from. I fell in love with their dense, sophisticated chamber pop sound. They were like a Polyphonic Spree for depressives or Tindersticks for emotional American kids. They had soul, chops and a great batch of songs, and thus, City of Festivals instantly became one of my favorite albums of ’03. And now I’m even more excited that they’re back, as I’ve been eagerly anticipating a follow-up to their stellar first effort.
Sing Out America!, Decibully’s new album, is not as perky or patriotic as you would think, but rather, 10 more of their beautiful, eclectic tunes. Employing an arsenal of banjo, lap steel, vibraphone, synth, mandolin and a plethora of other stringed, keyed and percussive instruments, Decibully manages to re-create the mature, graceful sounds of their first record. William Seidel’s voice is still charmingly imperfect, defying the notion that you have to sound like Nick Cave to front this sort of band, as it blends with the music to successful effect.
The first three tracks on America are more or less what one would have expected from Decibully up to this point: slower tempos, a bajillion instruments, sweet melodies and the slightest tinge of melancholy. But the fourth track, “Notes to Our Leaders,” picks up the pace, with bouncy banjo and vibraphone harmonies and a shuffling brush-drum beat. And the following track, “Sing Out! Sing Out! Sing Out!”, even approaches full-fledged rock song, albeit at Decibully’s chosen pace. Sounding something like the Magnolia Electric Co., it’s a rootsy, Neil Young-inspired tune with walls of distortion, but few jagged edges or high-speed tempos. Decibully may know how to rock, but don’t expect them to bite Fugazi anytime soon.
Haunting group vocals open “Temptation,” which is neither the Tom Waits song or the New Order song for those who might be curious. It’s more atmospheric and ambient than the rest of the record, but no less melodic. And that’s one of the wonderful things about Decibully. They can take any sort of arrangement and make it pleasing to the ears, whether it be an orchestral pop song, a noisy rocker or a barely-there a cappella track. And there’s even a few surprises, like the organ-driven rocker “Penny Look Down,” a song that might be more suited to a Cursive album than Decibully. But it doesn’t seem the slightest bit out of place.
The initial surprise of Decibully may be gone, but the band’s new effort is still quite a good listen. And that brings me to yet another reward from being a music writer — the opportunity to continually be able to hear new music from your favorite artists.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.