December 19, 2007

The Evolution of ... The Decemberists

The Decemberists and I have an interesting history. When I was first introduced to them several years ago, I really didn't like their sound at all. Colin Meloy's voice just didn't click, and even now, it's an odd sounding one, a sort of harsh buzz.

I started listening to them more closely about a year ago, shortly after their latest album, The Crane Wife was released, and I've come around to their sound. I'm not entirely sure what's brought me over for these guys, but after listening to their music more and more, I'm liking them more and more as time goes on.

The Decemberists first came on to the music scene in Portland Oregon with their first EP, 5 Songs, which was released in 2001 and helped mold some of their early sound. I have to say that this was some of the first I heard from them, and I wasn't impressed on the first listen or two. Their sound here was a bit unrefined but further listens have let the group grow on me since then.

Shiny - The Decemberists

Castaways and Cutouts in 2002, bringing with them an interesting sound, but also songs that told stories. Theirs are not the regular pop songs that cover the typical themes. These are stories that cover a number of subjects. Right from the get-go, their name has references within itself - it comes from the Russian Decemberist Revolt. Their first full length album has a fairly raw sound to my ears - Meloy's voice is rougher, the instruments are tight and the lyrics are fantastic - it's a fantastic start to their career, but not their best work- that was yet to come.

Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect - The Decemberists

Their next album came a year later in 2003, Her Majesty. Once again, listeners were treated to some fantastic songwriting skills. Overall, their sound has smoothed out a little, save for Colin Meloy's voice. 2004 followed with another EP release, the Tain. Once again, I wasn't impressed at first, although I've certainly allowed them to grow on me a bit since then. Their sound was certainly progressing here.

Los Angeles, I'm Yours - The Decemberists

Their next album, Picaresque, is when they really started getting good. The album starts off fantastically with 16 Military Wives, which blends the instrumentals and vocals much better than their prior album, all while keeping their fantastic songwriting. This is the first album where I really like all the songs - their sound has evened out a bit and everything has started to click by this point. The album was followed with Picarequeties in 2005.

16 Military Wives - The Decemberists

Their latest album, The Crane Wife, was also their first major release, and in my opinion, their best yet to day. Colin Meloy's voice has matured since their first sounds, to the point where it's possibly the strongest point of the album.
This is a bit of a concept album, centered around the Japanese folk story of the Crane Wife, where two of the songs, Crane Wife 3 and The Crane Wife 1 and 2 take up much of the time on the album, all while the rest of the songs center around trust and betrayal. There's several extremely long songs here - the Island and Crane Wife 1 & 2 clocking in at over ten minutes each - yet they are some of the best songs on the album. Early 2007 saw the release of an iTunes EP, entitled Live from SoHo.

Sons & Daughters - The Decemberists

The group was as of recently on a tour in Europe, to be followed up with a second one in the US, which was cut short due to a serious illness from one of the band members (it's unknown which one). Prior to that, the group did a five stop tour backed by a full orchestra around the United States. Hopefully, the group will recover and begin writing up some new material for a new album. Hopefully, we'll be seeing more of them in the next couple years.