Home » Bands We Love » TAINted Love : In which The Decemberists trade their image for silhouettes and win!

TAINted Love : In which The Decemberists trade their image for silhouettes and win!

I know what you’re thinking and I don’t want to hear it. At least not right now. I am fully aware of how pompous and routine you think The Decemberists are and though I will easily admit that I don’t listen to them much myself as I used to, and I realize they aren’t as awesome as The Tiger Lillies, I still haven’t given up on them for possible greatness to come.

Their routine has variations, but there is still an approximate Decemberists style:

A little bit of witty wordplay here, some silly literary quoting there, mopey, ironic, staged shenanigans interspersed throughout and a bow of affected (yet somehow still effective) folky, music-hall pop just hooky enough to tie it all together in a neat little package for you, their formerly adoring but now far too hip and jaded fan base. I can hear your “been there done that” shit talking from a mile away;

Person A: The Decemberists? Fuck them! I used to listen to them way back before they got all lame and shit, but yeah, I totally don’t listen to them anymore. I’m so cool. I…” (spaces out into the internet).

Person B: “Oh! The Deceberists? Yeah, they’re alright I guess. Their songs are totally just like…Lyric about a pedophile here, shout out to Edward Gory there, jam for 11 minutes in the belly of a whale, while avenging your dead mother… I mean yeah, ok guys , we get it. Totally predictable you know? You read and shit. You probably used to get beat up in high school. You probably have always been a bit of an outsider in spirit. You’re a bit of a pervert and have a slight touch of a Peter Pan complex. You want desperately to be perceived as an intellectual, but as an involuntary slave to hipster culture you fear that you will never transcend a popular generalized stereotype…Whatever, none of us actually can relate to any of those things. At least, not since we lost our ability to differentiate between the internet and reality.”

I hear you loud and clear, oh spoiled generation of music pirateres.  I hear you and yet, for all that is said and done, in spite of what you think of The Decemberists, it’s impossible to discount their continual growth as a band. Their musical prowess stretches further in terms of both composition and lyrical content with each new album, and though they have yet to create a masterpiece of cohesion, they have left plenty of lovely and valuable odds and ends in their trail of indie and corporate musical exploration.

The Decemberists have come a long way as a band since I first saw them play at a small, half full, early night show at The Echo in Los Angeles many years ago. Since then, they have released three full length albums, become a major label band and gained a level of “Indie” stardom that lots of myspace bands would get wet over. They have the trendy, quirky, literary gimmick down and somehow continue to sport it in a manner that is surprisingly convincing at times. They have grown in the way we act like we want bands to grow, by expanding their sound and subject matter and balancing their creative progression with the things that made us like them in the first place. However, as with any band who’s britches get a little too small a little too quickly, some pompousness and ideas of self entitlement have ensued, and this I think is wearing some of their older fans thin. I actually witnessed Colin Melloy say to a sold out Hollywood Bowl crowd that his music was finally getting the orchestrations that it deserved. He said this in front of the classically inclined Los Angeles Philharmonic in their entirety. Those poorly chosen words most likely made every classical musician on stage behind him playing happy little eighth notes and grade school arpeggios cringe, but most of the attending sold out crowd probably didn’t even notice.

In spite of these shenanigans, the concert luckily had begun on a good foot with a full performance of The Tain, their 18 minute mini album in five movements (eye rollers bare with me here) that was originally released by Acuarela Discos in 2004 and again with a larger distribution from Kill Rock Stars in 2005. It was released in the window of time between Piccaresque and The Crain Wife and is one of the better things that the band has ever done. For those of you who missed out on the album, the time is right for a revisiting or an initial association. With a distant metalesque influence in its musicality, and a fractured, though often inspired storytelling style, Melloy and co. bring the most famous story of Ireland’s mythical (and super weird) epic Táin Bó Cúailnge to life. Though the first time I heard this album all the way through, I was kind of taken aback, it was the performance with Los Angeles Philharmonic that finally made me a fan.

Fast forward to the other day when I saw on Pitchforkmedia that a video version of The Tain had been made and I became a bit excitable. I hadn’t thought about this piece in a while and was intrigued to see what had been made of it. The band is thankfully nowhere to be seen. In their place, the story of The Tain is told through the use of silhouettes and various colored backgrounds, a deceptively simplistic animated style that surprises with its graces consistently as the video evolves. The effect is beautiful and charming but often also odd and creepy, as the animated storytelling works with the song cycle to enhance the possibilities of it’s ideas and lyrical motifs. Most of The Decemberists more epic songs have a surprising ability to hold your interest through multiple listening sessions. The band’s weakness lays in between the conceptual songs when they try to get too cutesy, or when too many different concepts stack up against each other. The Tain avoids these problems since all it’s songs are interrelated and part of a whole, making it one of the most consistent things the band has done to date. I still think that the only way The Decemberists will create their masterpiece will be to take on an albums worth of this sort, and leave the rest of the trimmings aside; but whether this will ever come to be is still in the realms of the unreal.

The show I saw many years ago at The Echo still remains a vivid memory. There was almost no banter whatsoever besides a few words about how difficult it is to distract an audience when you are tuning up an instrument. After that, the small crowd was treated to an acoustic version of “Red Right Ankle”, and I heard what is to this date my favorite Decemberists song being played for the first time. While I understand that they are a different band now, and have a right to a bit of ego, it doesn’t suit the bookish romanticism their music wishes to evoke. They still have a ways to go if they want to make their definitive album before they turn people off, but this video evokes the kind of band that I dream that The Decemberists could be if they choose to.For my sake and for theirs, I hope they choose correctly and choose soon.

Due to possible “technical complications” that may ensue from embeding a video of The Tain I am forced to instead mearly link you to it.  Thank wordpress for never seeing anything from PitchforkTV on this or any other blog.  Here is the link:

http://pitchfork.tv/videos/the-decemberists-the-tain

And here, as always, are a few mp3’s for all you lovelies and secret fans alike:

The Decemberists-Here I dreamt I was an Architect

The Decemberists – 16 Millitary Wives

The Decemberists – Red Right Ankle

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3 thoughts on “TAINted Love : In which The Decemberists trade their image for silhouettes and win!

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