Originally posted by CMIPalaeo:The Decemberists - The Crane Wife (2006)
(song names are hyperlinked for your listening pleasure )
1. The Crane Wife 3
2. The Island
3. Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then) [feat. Laura Veirs]
4. O Valencia!
5. The Perfect Crime #2
6. When the War Came
7. Shankill Butchers
9. The Crane Wife 1 & 2
10. Sons and Daughters
11. After the Bombs [iTunes bonus track]
The Decemberists, based in Portland, Oregon, are typically described as “indie rock” or “indie folk.” I don’t particularly like “indie” as a genre description because I don’t feel it’s very useful in conveying what a band sounds like; I’ll here say that I’d call The Decemberists a folk rock group with a strong dosage of prog rock/jam rock shot through. They range from upbeat folksy-poppy tunes (see their most recent album, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World) to more hard-edged country/roots-infused songs, to full-on epic rocking out. Their instrumentation incorporates a wide range beyond just the traditional bass, drums, and guitar, with a lot of more folk instruments making appearances, and the lyrics of frontman Colin Meloy are generally narratives with colourful, highly-ornate old-fashioned language and, in the grand tradition of folk music, often quite dark themes.
Below, I give some background on the tracks, coupled with something like my review. If you guys want a more clear-cut review of the album from me, I’ll get that done.
The Crane Wife is one of my favourite records. It combines The Decemberists' typically pleasant-sounding, fairly-soft pop folk rock with some surging, harder rock-out numbers, and consistently presents thoroughly engaging narrative soundscapes.
The titular song cycle, three parts split over two tracks, is based on a traditional Japanese folk tale of a man who rescues an injured crane, which later returns to him as a beautiful woman. Interestingly, the narrative's conclusion, ‘The Crane Wife 3,’ opens the album, and provides a perfect example of The Decemberists’ ability to marry uplifting, sky-blue music to a frankly depressing lyric.
'The Island,' an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, is a 12-minute sonic castaway adventure in three movements; it builds from a slow and heavy roots rocker with impeccable imagery, into a dizzying, absolutely unhinged fusion of 1970s Yes with a demented piratical sea shanty, before closing as a stripped-back eulogy.
‘Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)’ is a beautiful love song between a soldier in the American Civil War and the girl he’s left at home; she is certain he’ll die while he vows no forces could keep him from returning to her. The right touch of lyrical ambiguity leaves it up to the listener which one of them is right (as the romantic type myself, I prefer the interpretation that the soldier WILL beat the odds and return to his distraught love), but either way this lovely song is another prime example of a cheerful-sounding song with lyrics anything but cheerful. As someone who is familiar with how difficult long-distance relationships can be, I find this song especially moving.
‘O Valencia!’ returns to the Shakespearean with that timeless theme of star-crossed lovers, this time with a Mafia spin. A fairly simple, upbeat pop rock song, this is the album’s singalong moment — it’s my fiancée’s absolute favourite Decemberists song, and she’s nuts about this band! That said, you get three guesses as to whether or not there’s a happy ending…
One of the most interesting tracks on The Crane Wife, ‘The Perfect Crime #2’ is a much slicker, groovier tune than anything else on this disc. A swingy drumbeat and distorted guitars make this song feel something like — and this is quite a flawed comparison, but I’ll muscle through with it — a folk band got lost and ended up a part of the Zooropa sessions (apologies to The Wanderer). Certainly one of the standout tracks, and to my knowledge the only Decemberists song to have dance remixes.
‘When the War Came’ is the heaviest rock song on the album, and is written about one of the most interesting stories. During the Siege of Leningrad, the Nazi army encircled the Russian city and cut off the entry of all supplies. The scientists at a botanical institute in Leningrad had made an oath to protect the seeds and plants stored their for prosperity, but have to face the starvation of their city and themselves while protecting this scientific repository.
‘Shankill Butchers’ is quite the opposite from the preceding track musically — a simple, slow, spectacularly spooky nursery rhyme. Another interesting story here, and a more U2-relevant one — the Shankill Butchers were a faction of the Ulster Volunteer Force who killed more than 30 people in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, including seven random Catholics who were abducted in the night and dispatched by having their throats slashed. The simple, lullaby sort of style makes it much creepier. Sweet dreams, kids.
After that bout of gruesomeness, ‘Summersong’ is exactly what’s needed. A pleasant tune that is exactly what its title says — a beaty, singalongy summertime song. ‘Summersong’ is the music that's playing from one of those old-time picture postcards of the seaside at summer holidays, with everyone in those funny old bathing costumes and the ladies in big sun hats, the kind you’d find in a quaint little town with the smell of salt in the air and an ice cream cone in your hand. Of course, this is The Decemberists, and you’ll find that despite the music the words aren’t always too happy — that ice cream cone is melting, and the summer holidays are almost over…
‘Sons and Daughters’ is the final track of the album proper. Coming out of the lengthy beginning/ending of the Crane Wife cycle, ‘Sons and Daughters’ is an uplifting song with a simple style. This is a place where the imagery and lyricism of The Decemberists is a bit shaky (‘we’ll build our walls of aluminum, we’ll fill our mouths with cinnamon’ is roughly on par with ‘a mole digging in a hole’) but the outro chant of ‘here all the bombs fade away’ and the inescapably catchy, happy music make it hard not to like this song. This is a song that promises new beginnings.
While it’s a bonus iTunes song and not part of the album proper, I do really recommend including 'After the Bombs’ as track 11. It’s one of The Decemberists’ most haunting and gorgeous tunes. It feels like a counterpart to (the prequel to, in my mind) ‘Sons and Daughters.’ This is a dream of hope in a world where it’s not quite attainable, and the dreamers know enough to temper their dreams' own optimism. Is this a song in London in 1941? Is it in Aleppo in 2017? Is it somewhere else in time and space? Yes, it is, to all. The last song of the night, the bar is closing and there’s only the one streetlight on outside, then everyone trickles out and dissolves off into the ink beyond that solitary yellowy pool of what’s known and the curtain just may fall... A slow, piano-driven and country-saturated song, this is like The Decemberists song that shoulda been on Rattle and Hum. ‘Then we’ll go dancing…’
My top tracks: The Island, Yankee Bayonet, The Perfect Crime #2, Summersong, After the Bombs
Originally posted by CMIPalaeo:Haha, no worries...
Originally posted by CMIPalaeo:That seems pretty reasonable. I'm sure there's lots of travelling going on, especially for our European fans!