Posts Tagged 'Colin Meloy'

Christmas in December(ists)

I am happy now. I’d heard Colin Meloy had played a show in NYC but I missed my chance to listen to it. Well so here the good kind souls there at the YouTube building decided to update their little online enterprise with some of the songs!


I feel better already.

In particular, there are songs from the new album, “The King is Dead,” which I anticipate like whoa. I got the free download of “Down By the Water,” which come on I love. But I think this song “Rise to Me” is going to be my favorite. I dig this acoustic version, but I’m looking forward to hearing the full band behind it.

Ever get that feeling where you just can’t wait to listen to a whole album? January 18th, you and me have plans.


The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love

The Rock Gods Themselves... The Decemberists  



The Rock Gods Themselves... The Decemberists

Before we begin, you should know I’m not a reviewer of music. The history, the myriad influences every band has, the nature of musical genre – these things exist only as a facile comprehension for me. Please expect little to no depth of thought on the matters. What I am interested in is narrative and the different things that word means to different mediums of art. The narrative of a play is different from a book is different from a film is different from a painting is different from a song (and, one notion I’ve been turning over for a few days: is different from an album?).

The Decemberists have been my favorite band for a while now. They’ve made a name for themselves in the folk prog-rock scene, or rather, they have invented a folk prog rock scene here in the 21st century, and that became their calling. Their songs consistently have numerous movements, their lyrics insist on the beauty of poetics above all. Their music tells stories. They create distinct, startlingly realized characters. They write 12 minute songs about a Mariner’s Revenge called… The Mariner’s Revenge Song. They rock. And singer/songwriter Colin Meloy writes some of the best (love) songs ever. 

Their fifth album, “The Hazards of Love” is a concept album centering on two of folks longest standing archetypes: Margaret and William. They are in love. He is a fawn. There is an evil queen. Sound like a Disney movie a little bit? Well, you’re not far off, but add in a family-murdering kidnapper/rapist and now you’ve got yourself the cast of characters. What do you think is going to happen? Will the fawn and the lady fall in love? Of course, silly, this is music. Will the love be challenged by the evil queen’s evil ways? You know it. Will there be frightening rapids to forge in order to save the damsel? Will she implore the trees to call to her fawn? Will the villain’s dead children rise and take revenge? Why, of why, would we be listening if the answer were no?

This is an epic folk rock opera music spectacular, just to name a few qualifiers. And you can bet that when Epic is invited, his good friend Bombastic is sure to show up. And I’m here to tell you I ate up all 58 minutes of this album. The Decemberists have always been able to infuse their music with a sense of excitement and pulse without losing their footing. This time, though, they’ve erased completely any spaces between folk and rock. A good portion of the music is basic, guitar-thrashing loudness, verging on heavy metal, and because the scope of the story is so massive, none of it feels out of place. In particular, new ground is broken in “A Bower Scene” and “Won’t Want For Love” the music for both of which are reprised in other songs later on the album, where they are driven even further. The band seems energized by this newness. You can feel them enjoying themselves breaking out of any box they’ve been put in or have put themselves in. At the same time, though, this is clearly a Decemberists’ album. They’re not aiming to depart wholly from their own core sound, and one of the best things about the album is how well they were able to blend their own staples into this story. All four parts of the titular “The Hazards of Love” feel utterly at home, as does the hilarious, macabre “The Rake’s Song.” 

The Decemberists have always been comfortable with this type of music. This album isn’t a departure, but an eventuality. It was only a matter of time before songs like the 19 minute long “The Tain” was extended for a full album. And it is, “The Hazards of Love” boasts a daunting 17 tracks, but don’t be fooled. It’s an hour long song with chapter titles. And the arrangement is flawless. Characters have themes, movements are repeated, the pacing is masterful in terms of propelling us from one moment to the next, yet knowing when to stop and smell the lyrics. In fact, it is so perfect, that The Decemberists have to work a bit to keep things from feeling too controlled. So, they clipped all silences between songs, they’ve let each song overflow into the next, spilling and colliding with themselves. They surprise us by adding two female vocalists to play Margaret and the Queen, and they subvert our expectation by having a song sung entirely by children. “The Hazards of Love” is very similar, actually, to Paul Thomas Anderson’s film “There Will Be Blood.” Both are the escalation of existing ideas and motifs, taken to epic proportions. Both are brilliant examples of artists at the absolute peak of their powers taking a big risk by challenging themselves to do something so unlike anything they’ve ever done before it is guaranteed to propel themselves into a new career plateau. Both are darkly hilarious at times. Finally, while both are decidedly the most unique things either has ever done, neither is the best thing they’ve done. Which is not so much a criticism as much as it is a simple statement of a personal preference. 


Welcome to the Forest

But one way they are different: “The Hazards of Love” is much more hopeful than Anderson’s film. The first time I heard the album, I was struck by the largeness of the rock sections, their naked intensity. The band is having a blast blasting, and I loved it too. But then I listened to it again, and again. And again tonight, all the way through, lights off, stereo turned way up. And the epic rock sections are still as powerful as ever, but this album also contains some of the band’s most beautiful love songs. The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All) has one of Meloy’s most transparently passionate statements when he cries: “I Wager All the Hazards of Love.” Also, “Annan Water” for its chorus and the final song, The Hazards of Love 4 (Drowned) and the way its lovers look past any sense of fated doom and instead look directly into each other’s eyes. The sense of calm in Meloy’s voice in the midst of crashing waves is the perfect contradiction. In fact, that’s the best description of the entire album. The songs are so varied in every way and yet so cohesive that it is something of a mind-blowing experience.

So, will you like this album? That depends. Do you like music that is actively, blatantly doing something? Do you like 58 minute concept albums? Do you like the Decemberists in general, and Colin Meloy’s linguistic gymnastics in particular? For me the answers are sure, I’m open to it, yes, and Oh God yes. This album is remarkably easy and enjoyable to listen to. I think many people will find the music so enjoyable that they’ll look forward to returning over and over and over again to pick up all the story elements. 

Sirs and Ladies: a fantastically successful, blissfully enjoyable experiment.

Best of 2008

If you are like me, you make lists. Lists of lists even. If I want to know who are my favorite film directors of all time, I know I’ve made a list of them, which I can forever amend and edit. If I want to compile my top 20 books of all time, I am in luck that I have kept track of every book I’ve read since 2001, and have a star rating attached to each of them. I use a 4 star system, which does not function as a translatable percentage, though it would seem easy to apply. 3 stars does not mean 75%. Art is not judged like a pop quiz. I have been looking over my list of books read and CDs heard and DVDs watched, and I am thinking of them in terms of when they came throughout the year. I bought The Raconteurs’ sophomore album “Consolers of the Lonely,” because I liked their first CD okay, and hoped they’d grown (they had). That CD is listed first on my list of purchases for the year, but it wasn’t released until the end of March. And for me, it feels most like summer for all I listened to it. The three Tom Waits albums I bought have no frame of reference, though, because they feel like forever (same goes with The Decemberists. Once I listen to them enough, it’s like they’ve always been there. They are absorbed). I don’t recall if I had them when I saw him in concert, because I have so much of his stuff, the albums blend in to each other. This fall I got on a Jay-Z kick, so they feel like running and falling leaves and sweat and motion. But I’ve just been talking music. And I haven’t gotten to my awards yet.


The Collective Experience

The Collective Experience

For the finale of my podcast, my co-host and I have chosen to discuss not simply our favorite this-or-that’s of 2008. That would be too simple. Our podcast has been rigorously, ridiculously overly expansive, and in that name, we have decided to discuss our Top 10 Artistic Experiences… of ALL TIME. That is to say, if there were only 10 artistic moments you could have, if all else were to be locked away and discarded – no, forsaken   what would you choose? What moments did you witness or have that really stick out? 



The Solitary Experience

The Solitary Experience

It is an impossible game to play at. How do you compare, say, a live concert with the reading of a book? Or going to a Broadway play that you thought was just okay to watching your favorite movie of all time alone in your room one night with your girlfriend? Can the two be reconciled? Yes, of course, the answers will be carefully selected, but I don’t yet know what big:small moment ratio I’ll have. How much does the subjective experience of a thing compare with its objective importance to you? When I saw “Tropic Thunder” the first time, I laughed more than at any other movie this year. I was with good friends, we were all in hysterics. Second viewing? Different city, early evening, second movie that day, and a lame-ass crowd. Most of the movie fell flat. The jokes took forever to get from the screen to me, they seemed completely un-spontaneous, and  instead the movie’s glaring pacing issues and Ben Stiller’s badness came shining through. But I still remember the first viewing fondly. I take the few things from the movie I really did like, and let the rest be fun had with friends. 


So…2008. Let’s give out some awards.

Best DVD Discovery – “The Public Enemy” from 1931, with one of my all-time favorite performances by James Cagney that makes you beam with angry pride. He is the origin and Godfather of all portrayals of gangsters, criminals, and low-lives. Below is my favorite scene, which is also the most iconic. Think of film noir. Think of “The Matrix.” Think of Daniel Day Lewis in “Gangs of New York” and think of Heath Ledger’s Joker.

Best Album Bought – The Mountain Goats’ 2002 album “Tallahassee” because it is simple and dreadful and lovely and tells me the story of my life. 

Best Literary FindWuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. My senior year of college, I took a class on Jane Austen. This book is what I had hoped to find. It is deeper, wiser, more emotional, more stirring, more painful, and more gloriously written than anything Ms. Austen ever did or could hope to do (God rest her soul). Austen is the Salieri to Ms. Bronte’s Mozart.

Best Back-to-Back Experience – In the span of 10 days, I saw Colin Meloy’s solo concert – he of my beloved Decemberists – and my heart’s most recent favorite, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova in concert – they of the breakout 2007 film, “Once” (Runner-up: I saw “Into the Wild” and “There Will Be Blood” in theaters on the same day, with loads of friends. Good day.)

Best Artistic Personal Milestone – This is not the milestone itself, but the means to that milestone. I purchased a Panasonic Digital Film camera (see it here), and have been writing and making movies since the summer. It was the catalyst to make me break out and get to work. So far – 6 minute film that I am going to reshoot, 33 minute film that I moderately like, and 3 more projects to get to in the next few months. We will see.

December(ists) in October

I haven’t posted my favorite bands and musicians yet, but if you asked me what band I’ve listened to most in the last 2 years, the answer is unquestionably and unabashedly The Decemberists. The full details must be saved for another time. For now, just think of folk rock, alternative, and music that still believes in existing in movements, tied together by the indelibly fable-esque storytelling of lead singer Colin Meloy.

I also like bands that release small things in addition to full albums. A good EP can go a long way. Think of “Woman King” by Iron & Wine or “Broken Bride” from Ludo. Now, in leu of their new album “Hazards of Love,” out next year, The Decemberists have released Vol. 1 of a 3-part EP called “Always a Bridesmaid,” about it all just not quite working out the way you wanted.

The songs on Vol. 1 – “Valerie Plame” and “O New England” are both upbeat, fun, and sortof thrilling in terms of sheer momentum. All 6 songs, according to the website, were songs too good to be scrapped but that didn’t quite make the cut for the new album, although they establish what seems to be its driving theme very nicely. A $2 investment (which can be made either from the website or on iTunes) will keep me at bay until November 4th when Vol. 2 is released.

It Has Come to This

February 2019
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