Tuesday, October 17th, 2006
The Crane Wife
I was a bit surprised when it was announced last December that The Decemberists had jumped to the majors after signing a deal with Capitol because as I wondered at the time, exactly what larger audience could the band expect a major to be able to expose them to? This wasn’t Death Cab, singing about universalities like young love and longing – this was a group of unabashedly geeky history buffs who liked playing dress-up and singing about sailors lost at sea and World War I soldiers finding love in the trenches and their most likely audience, your typical college-dwelling indie rock geek, almost certainly already knew of them. But still, the band were offered presumably a lot of money and a contract on their own creative terms so why not?
And now, nine odd months later, we have the first fruits of their deal – The Crane Wife. Anyone getting ready to yell “sell-out” at the band is surely disappointed as this record is easily denser and less radio-friendly than its predecessor Picaresque. Though there are a handful of sparkling pop nuggets, it’s musically and thematically far closer to The Tain. It opens typically enough with the final installment of the titular song cycle based on a Japanese fable (which collectively are maybe the finest things the Decemberists have ever recorded), but track two does a hard left into a vintage Pink Floyd-ian keyboard groove that introduces a 12-minute, multi-part nautical epic. I admit to enjoying a happy moment when I imagine the looks on the A&R peoples’ faces when they first heard what they were going to be working with.
The 70s prog-rock vibe rears its head a few more places throughout the record and while I don’t think it sits quite as comfortably against the more band’s more conventional folk-pop nature as they’d like, Colin Meloy’s voice and words definitely help tie things all together. I haven’t listened to much Decemberists this year as Meloy’s strange sepia world isn’t one you visit casually but the more I listen to The Crane Wife, the more I’m reminded how unique and wonderful this band can be and this record is a terrific example of that potential and ambition realized. I’d call it their best yet and 4 out of 5 dentists agree.
The Oregonian has a poorly-formatted interview with Meloy about the themes of war that run through his work, The Los Angeles Times discusses history and Chart talks about his thus-far futile attempts to get Canadian director Guy Maddin to shoot a video for the band. Instead, the clip for the first single – “O Valencia” – will be a contest for fans to create their own video using green-screen footage shot by the band. And if you’re really keen, they grace the covers of the new issues of Under The Radar and Filter and there’s a feature article (soon to be online) in the new Harp
Of course, one of the bad things about moving to a major, at least from my POV, is no authorized MP3s to link to. But they’re out there – you just have to use a little elbo.ws grease. But there is this fun YouTube video of the band preparing for a photoshoot and even though it’s at the abyssmal Kool Haus, their November 6 Toronto show should be entertaining regardless. One hopes.
MySpace: The Decemberists
Meloy and others also offer video testimonials of their favourite albums as part of Insound’s new Save The Album website/campaign/promotion, meant to put a stop to the ruthless clubbing of baby albums every year on the Canadian ice floes as well as get the word out on Insound’s upcoming digital download service.
The Wrens decline comment on the forthcoming reissues of Silver and Secaucus on November 14, but do happily report on their other forthcoming activites on their website including a split-single between Charles Bissell and Okkervil River’s Will Sheff wherein each covers one of the others’ songs. Look for that this Winter, hopefully.
Stream: Samme Stof Som Stof