Top 10 2006; 5

The Decemberists
The Crane Wife
After the Bombs (removed. contact me for a copy.)

First, I’m going to concede all points. Yes, the Decemberists make music for nerds. Yes, they’ve been overhyped this year. Yes, they have a schtick. Yes, Colin Meloy does sing out of the side of his mouth. All right? Moving on. I’ll grant that the music isn’t for everyone, but it has excellent qualities that still put it head and shoulders above the pack.

Second, let’s note the problems. The album is supposed to have a theme, but it isn’t executed very well. The crane wife sections are put in backwards (which is fine) and slapped in randomly with the Civil War songs, sea chanties, murder ballads, etc (not fine). On previous albums, since they weren’t trying for a theme per se, the random mix of songs was great. On this one, the crane wife story, such as it is, gets subsumed by the (shorter, better) other songs.

I know Meloy talked in most of his interviews about trying to buck the “major label” label by recording longer songs, not just those pop-friendly four minute dealies. Two problems with that — first, what’s wrong with pop-friendly four minute dealies? Secondly, trying too hard results in songs like the literally (but badly) titled “The Island/Come And See/The Landlord’s Daughter/You’ll Not Feel the Drowning.” If this tripartite monster had been separated, then the listener would have been able to have a great nautically flavored 70s rock takeoff (“The Island/Come and See”), a Jethro Tull murder ballad (“The Landlord’s Daughter”), and a rough sailor’s lullabye (“You’ll Not Feel…”). And 12 tracks instead of 10 (don’t even get me started on some great songs that were left off the album and made into “bonus tracks,” either).

So thirdly, let’s put all that aside and let’s consider the songs that meet and match the gold standard that Meloy has executed since “Her Majesty…”. Consider “O Valencia,” so overplayed because people love a duel with pistols at dawn, girls getting shot by mistake, and a brokenhearted lover vowing to burn the city down. Or Laura Veirs’s smooth duet on “Yankee Bayonet,” and classic lines like But you are in the ground / with the wolves and the weevils all achew on your bones so dry. And my absolute favorite line from “Sons and Daughters”: we’ll fill our mouths with cinnamon. I interpret “Sons and Daughters” as an emigration song, and those six words subtly encapsulate all emigrants’ hopes for luxury and wealth. Some of these songs approach sheer perfection, and more than make up for any picky flaws. Congratulations to the Decemberists — they’ve done it again.



  1. optimuscrime’s avatar

    disliking the crane wife because the thematic songs aren’t in order is like hating the mona lisa because it has an ugly frame

  2. zara’s avatar

    Good thing I don’t, then, eh? Although framing means more to music than paintings, since you can always put a new one on Mona. (I hate the Mona Lisa. But not because of the frame.)

  3. Matthew’s avatar

    You are so right about splitting up that song – I have asked my brother to do it for me as he is a sound engineer and the needless cobbling together of those three really irritated me.

    And why oh why couldn’t they have put the two ‘bonus’ tracks (that I know of so far) on the album itself – they are fantastic.

    Nonetheless, it is an excellent record, so it seems churlish to whinge, but those flaws are so obvious and easily corrected, it’s teeth-gnashingly frustrating!

  4. zara’s avatar

    It is frustrating when your vision of the album doesn’t jibe with the creators’. And yeah, those little things seem picky but they do make a difference to the listener. What a great idea to have your brother break them up :D

  5. Jason’s avatar

    This request is a little past due, but could you send me a copy of The Decemberists “After the Bombs”? Thanks!

  6. zara’s avatar

    Consider it done.

  7. Jason’s avatar

    Sorry to bother you again, but I didn’t receive your e-mail of “After the Bombs.” Would you mind sending it again? And while I’m being greedy, do you happen to have “The Perfect Crime #1” and/or “Hurdles Even Here”? I believe they are both Starbucks bonus tracks. Thanks!

  8. zara’s avatar

    OK; try number 2. Since I’m sending it to a hotmail address, it will likely go into your junk mail folder.

  9. grzond’s avatar

    do you think you could send me the track as well? i’m having a dickens of a time finding it

  10. armorer’s avatar

    zara – could you also hook me up with a link to “after the bombs”? I am not going to buy the album again on itunes just for that track. Thanks!

  11. Starr’s avatar

    If it’s no hassle and not ridiculously long after the original posting to be asking, I’d really appreciate it if you could e-mail me After The Bombs. I’m having a hell of a time finding it, and I don’t want to give in and buy ANOTHER copy of The Crane Wife just because I was ‘stupid’ enough not to buy it off of iTunes the first time. Thanks! :)

  12. Sean’s avatar

    I’ve just discovered all this wonderful b-sides music but the only song I don’t have is After the Bombs. If it’s not too much trouble could you please send it to me?

  13. Brian’s avatar

    Could you please send “After The Bombs” to me please if its not too much trouble? Thank you!

  14. adam’s avatar

    nice review.

    i am in search of these bonus tracks. is the only way to get them is to buy a copy at Starbucks? really?

    also, i took the “cinnamon” portion of
    ‘Sons and Daughters’reffering to the ancient ritual of burning cinnamon at someone cremation ceremony. it alludes to death in my opinion. and the aluminum homes refer to the boxes they’re being shipped home in.
    so, i take the song as washed up bodies that had eventually floated back home from war. (or by dirigibles)

  15. zara’s avatar

    Search no more! I shall email them to you.

    I love your interpretation too! Creepy but accurate :). I didn’t know about burning cinnamon, I’m definitely gonna look that up.

  16. Sara’s avatar

    Sorry to bother you again in such short notice =P (and thank you for sending my Culling of the Fold, again!)

    I was just reading the post above me, can I take it to mean you have the starbucks bonus tracks? I just went out and bought the album from them, just to get those extra songs, only to find out the itunes ticket inside expired in march, and I couldn’t return it because I had opened the packaging. (read: super-frustrated. stupid starbucks).

    If you do have those two extra songs, might I beg you on my knees to send them to me?

  17. archimedes’s avatar

    i just heard ‘Culling of the Fold’ for the first time. what an amazing song. i feel like i’d be following the herd to be asking for free mp3s… but, i’d love a copy of After the Bombs if it’s not too much of a hassle. Culling of the Fold would be lovely too if possible. please?

  18. Chris’s avatar

    An interesting review – not sure i’d wholeheartedly subscribe to some of your objections, but in many ways they are valid points as regards those thematic and tracklisting issues. Was wondering if you cud give me a hand in getting a hold of ‘The Crane Wife’ b-sides? Thanks in advance.


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