Review Summary: We did it all for you
Releasing an outtakes EP raises several questions: Why not just make these songs bonus tracks" Do they stand alone" If they were deemed unfit for the album for which they were written, why release them at all" However, for a band who on their last album proclaimed, “we did it all for you”, one is inclined to believe that the EP is merely a motion of generosity toward their fans.
While The Decemberists have released outtakes EPs before, Florasongs
, culled from the sessions that produced this year’s grower What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
, sets itself apart by being portrayed as its own entity. While Picaresqueties
and Long Live the King
were given titles that clearly showed they were companion pieces to their albums Picaresque
and The King is Dead
has no such obvious link. Its title certainly is accurate: the five songs here are, generally, as beautiful and flowery as those on What a Terrible World…
; however, they fail to distinguish themselves from the songs on that album. With the exception of the rollicking “Fits & Starts”, all of these songs would have been as comfortable there as anything that actually made the cut, and this ultimately works to the EP’s detriment.
“Why Would I Now”, a lush but sappy ballad, is too similar to What a Terrible World…
’s “Make You Better” for its own good. Fortunately, the band correctly discerned which was the better and left “Why Would I Now"” off, but holding it for this EP does little to cover up the similarities. The EP’s highlight, the absolutely gorgeous “Riverswim”, makes the most of its ruminative pace and stripped down arrangement, with country-esque guitar, wistful accordion, and shimmery violin blending together excellently, but it recalls “Lake Song” a bit too closely in both title and function to have been on the LP. However, nothing about “The Harrowed and the Haunted”, all rich piano chords and bass with echoing vocals evoking the haunting Meloy sings about, suggests why it was not included on the album; likely, it was only thrown out because of space constraint. Elsewhere, the country-rock number “Fits & Starts” falls flat on its face, throwing away all the subtlety The Decemberists do so well but failing to be fun, with awkward, almost lo-fi production on Colin Meloy’s vocals, which get lost in the chaos. Finally, “Stateside”, built around strummed electric guitar and ambient background noise that sounds like a seashore, works adequately as a closer here, but is far inferior to What a Terrible World…
’s “A Beginning Song”, and goes nowhere in its three-and-a-half minutes.
Ultimately, one has to question the The Decemberists' decision to release Florasongs
as its own entity instead of using “Riverswim” and “The Harrowed and the Haunted” as bonus tracks. Those who do not care for the band’s recent Americana inclinations need not apply, but for those who have stuck with them this far, Florasongs
is a worthwhile listen, yet another kind gesture from one of indie’s greats.