The Decemberists - The Crane Wife

Being a resident of the Portland metro area, I was surprised I hadn't heard about The Decemberists sooner. Actually, I later discovered that I had in fact heard of them before via their song "Sixteen Military Wives" from their previous album Picaresque. I just didn't realize it. C'est la vie. In any case, the first time I was exposed to this band was through our local alternative music radio station.

The Decemberists are a five piece band that could be classified under the indie pop genre. After hearing "Oh Valencia!" a few times, I decided that I liked their distinctive sound enough to investigate the rest of their newest album, The Crane Wife. I was not disappointed.

The first thing that struck me about the album was the artwork on the CD (yes, I still buy actual CDs - I have a place in my heart for tangible music and the cover art that goes along with it - call me old fashioned). The artwork for this album was also done by a Portland native, Carson Ellis, who happens to be, lead singer, Colin Meloy's girlfriend. Upon further research I found out that Carson Ellis' artwork has also ordained album covers for Weezer, various band fliers and book illustrations. However, I digress (do check out Carson Ellis' artwork though) .

Colin Meloy's unique voice carries this album through to its last note. Likewise, Jenny Conlee's performance of many unconventional instruments adds a refreshing and distinctive characteristic to the songs. While some of the lyrics are a bit on the morbid side, they have a wonderful poetic quality to them. Although The Decemberists could be considered a bit of an acquired taste, just the level artistic talent alone, I believe, is definitely worth a listen. So, without further ado, here is my take on the music.

The Songs:

1. The Crane Wife 3
A great beginning to a good album. The song itself is upbeat and pop-ish, but with a bitter sweet undertone. Heavy on the acoustic guitar and piano. It follows up by seamlessly oozing into the next track.

2. The Island-Come & See/The Landlord’s Daughter/You’ll Not Feel The Drowning
This long track (over 12 minutes) is a wonderful three act piece. Reminiscent of a rock opera, but with a unique edgy feel accentuated by the variety of instruments featured (conventional and unconventional). Poetic lyrics that match the feeling of the music is refreshing given the lack of truly creative lyrics that flood the pop music market. It is nice to see works where the words could easily stand on their own just on the poetic qualities.

3. Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)
This wonderful song is my favorite piece on this album. My only wish was that Jenny Conlee had performed more of the songs in a lead singer position. However, I suppose that would only detract from the charm of this piece if more of the songs included her as a lead. I loved how Jenny's and Colin's voices played off each other performing this toe tapping song with more great lyrics.

4. O Valencia!
The best way I can think of to describe this track is upbeat indie pop. Fast paced with a bit of backup from Jenny, I thought the tone of the song, while good, didn't match the lyrics quite right.

5. The Perfect Crime #2
Another fast paced track heavy on the organ, it plays out like a movie.

6. When The War Came
This piece displays edgy guitar with a rough discord. Given the subject of the song, I think it works well.

7. Shankhill Butchers
A strange acoustic piece. The quiet subdued tone contrasting with the lyrical story of two serial killers told in the style of a campfire story very effectively conveys a perfect eerie creepiness.

8. Summersong
Calm, melodious, and soothing this piece moves like a distant memory of a time long past.

9. The Crane Wife 1 and 2
The overall mood of this piece is bittersweet like the first track. Pensive undertones mixed with a medium paced beat and folktale lyrics make this song a fun piece.

10. Sons and Daughters
This happy upbeat track with a deliciously addictive tune is my second favorite piece. It's one of those songs that has the potential get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. In fact, just reviewing this song is making it get stuck in my head. Also, Jenny's expert handling of the accordion adds to the fun and quirky beat.

Here's a super crappy handy-cam version of "Sons and Daughers" but it is still good enough to get it stuck in your head. :^)