The Decemberists – January Hymn b/w Row Jimmy 7″

The Decemberists - January Hymn b/w Row Jimmy

Although 2010 was a strong year for music, undoubtedly there were just too many albums released.  So much so that – for this writer at least – the joy of the new often came more in lower doses.  The forever-rejuvenating world of seven-inch singles consequently brought some of the biggest small pleasures to these ears.  Hence the likes of Laura Marling’s utterly adorable one-off covers 7” on Third Man Records, Memoryhouse’s two inaugural single releases and Panda Bear’s three (of four) album previewing slates demanded as much listening attention as 2010’s most notable long-players.  This soon-to-be-rare limited slice of the black plastic stuff from The Decemberists – released just before the Xmas shutdown – can also be added to the list of short but long impacting wonders from a year of oversupply.

Its A-side – “January Hymn” – is a calling card for the band’s fast approaching new LP, The King Is Dead.  The album promises to be less encumbered by the conceptual baggage and exaggerated arrangements that reached a somewhat unsustainable zenith with 2009’s The Hazards Of Love. On the evidence of “January Hymn” the more stripped-down approach suites Colin Meloy and co. surprisingly well.  Whilst Meloy’s adenoidal tones may never be truly considered warming, with “January Hymn” he finds a cosy ruralised vocal balm that serves the song the well and will please fans who enjoyed the “Record Year For Rainfall” b/w “Raincoat Song” single from 2008’s Always The Bridesmaid 7” trilogy.  The exclusive flipside however, is the truest delight of this two-sided treat.  Through an alluring irony-free reinterpretation of The Grateful Dead’s “Row Jimmy”, the group takes a stoned ‘70s country-funk ballad into the realms of folk-gospel uplift, that proves that The Decemberists can do blissful sincerity just as well as wanton verbosity.

Whether The King Is Dead lives up to the peeled-back promise of this pocket of winter-thawing beauty remains to be heard, but if not this artefact will still warrant many future returns to a turntable.

Capitol/Rough Trade Records