Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

Deep and catchy archaic sounding pop from The Decemberists

So how is it that none of you, my musically adventurous readers, ever left a comment and told me to check out The Decemberists? I had heard the name but knew nothing about them. I happened upon “The Hazards of Love” at the library and just picked it up idly as I so often do. I really had no particular expectations for the disc. I figured the worst I could do was spend a half an hour listening to music I wouldn’t like. Instead, I hit the other end of the spectrum and discovered a thoughtfully crafted album brimming over with powerful lyrics and great melodies.

They find a few more hazards than I ever did.

The Decemberists are from Portland, OR. I can’t speak to the rest of their catalog (yet) but “The Hazards of Love” has an archaic feel in sort of the same way Jethro Tull wrote melodies and lyrics that sounded like olde British folk music. The band’s 5 musicians play a variety of instruments that allows them to layer the sound and change up the overall feel of the music from track to track. Lead singer Colin Meloy’s pure alto reminds me of Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, except Meloy is a better lyricist.

The beginning and end of this album are brilliant, though there is a really slow patch in the middle of the album with about 5 tracks I didn’t like. Check out these winners, though.

  • The Hazards Of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle The Thistles Undone) – I was a little worried at first that this album was going to be too heavy handed, but though the music and lyrics are evocative, they handle it delicately. Notes and flourishes are carefully placed and the melody is cool.
  • A Bower Scene – This is a concept album, though to be honest I haven’t had this disc long enough to fully digest it. This flows straight out of track 1 so it begins with the same delicate feel, but it’s not long before they hit us with electric power chords. It’s only two minutes long and sets us up for track #3.
  • Won’t Want for Love – The catchy chord progression crunches along and is offset nicely by the sweet female lead vocalist (presumably Jenny Conlee) who portrays young Margaret. The combination is beautiful and compelling.
  • The Rake’s Song – What a brilliant, wicked song. So the rake finally gets married and is happy enough until his wife starts having babies. The fourth dies in childbirth, “mercifully taking her mother along.” So now he’s a miserable widower with three kids. Not for long. He poisons one, drowns another, and has to fight the third, but he “was easily bested.” Now he is free again to be a bachelor. You might think it bothers him, but it doesn’t. “Alright, alright, alright.” This grim little tale is told with a great guitar hook and charged backing vocals. I love it.
  • The Abduction of Margaret – The English folk feel is tossed aside for this one. Again the lyrics are strong and the music is perfectly suited to the story, as we move from sneaking up on Margaret to the shocking violence of the abduction to the galloping escape. You can almost see the story being staged as you listen.
  • The Queen’s Rebuke / The Crossing – The dirty distorted guitar and towering Hammond organ give this a powerful feel. The lyrics are obscure but beautifully written. The whole song is balancing act that they do well all while advancing the story.
  • Margaret in Captivity – It took me about an hour this morning to figure out what this song reminds me of. The guitar line in this song sounds exactly like the acoustic intro to Bon Jovi’s ‘Wanted Dead or Alive.’ That’s all the resemblance it bears, though, as it continues with the story of poor, helpless, kidnapped Margaret.
  • The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned) – This pretty song wraps up the story with steel guitar and a couple suicides.

This was so well written and so beautifully played with such variety from ballads to hard rock that I am now going to explore the rest of their catalog. I can’t help but think this is the best thing they’ve ever done or surely I would have heard more about these guys already. This was, after all, their latest release from 2009. Maybe, though, all their stuff is this good and I won’t be chasing “The Hazards of Love” through the rest of their work. I’ll let you know.

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March 29, 2010 - Posted by | Folk, Popular, Rock

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