Maybe this is a strange thing to hear someone proclaim, but I adore The Decemberists. The first time I heard their music, I was slightly skeptical, but over the past few year they have grown on me like an ingenius musical mildew.
They've developed a reputation for seeming to cater mainly to English majors, history buffs, and Anglophiles. Is it any wonder why I like them? They're known for playing with traditional styles of ballads and folk songs, especially sea shanties.
In 2009 they released the concept album The Hazards of Love- almost opera--like in scale, it tells a mythic and tragic love story. Though perhaps, slightly bizzare fare for the average radio listener, its scale of drama was strangely appealing. Several songs such as "The Wanting Comes in Wave" and "The Rake's Song" also hit lush and surprising musical nuances, drawing out a rock and roll/heavy metal sound, unusual for the band.
Perhaps what I love best about The Decemberists is their willingness to experiment and the intelligence and passion they do it with. They don't water down their music to create a more marketable single and they also enjoy playing with language and story telling. Not all of their songs have one simple meaning (in fact, I'm not sure any of them do), you could study their lyrics like you could a poem or story and dissect all sorts of meaning from it.
Their recently released album, The King is Dead shows yet another phase of experimentation for the band. Unlike the long, multi-layered songs of The Hazards of Love, King seems to be an exploration in simplicity and a return to the band's Portland OR root. The longest song on the album is five and a half minutes long, compared to earlier songs such as "The Island" and "Mariner's Revenge," or their eighteen and a half minute long EP "The Tain, "that's quite short.
I'll be reviewing their new album for the college paper, you can watch their first live performance of The King is Dead from beginning to end on NPR, here.