I love the Decemberists. I have for over 10 years now. I’ve seen them twice — once, I had the unique pleasure of watching them perform their concept album masterpiece The Hazards of Love in its entirety — not something I’ll ever experience again, and one of the most memorable concerts of my life.
I loved them before they were cool — and I don’t care how hipster that makes me sound.
I just this week acquired tickets to see them at Massey Hall in Toronto — second row from the stage. I am on cloud 9 3/4.
Why do I love them?
Well, I once read a review of one of their albums, and it said “You don’t need to be an English Major to appreciate the Decemberists, but it helps.”
I was an English Major. I swoon over their lyrics. They are storytellers. This isn’t music you can ignore, so if you’re the type that uses music as audio wallpaper, this might not be for you. But if you appreciate good writing, they will blow your mind.
Take this snippet, for example, from a song called “On the Bus Mall”, about two runaways that form something of a family with each other.
oh, what a bargain,
We’re two easy targets
For the old men at the off-tracks,
Who’ve paid in palaver
In crumpled old dollars,
Which we squirreled away
In our rat trap hotel by the freeway.
I get chills just at the squirrel/rat cleverness.
Musically, they draw from all my favourites — folk music, The Smiths, Fleetwood Mac, and then into heavier, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd territory — Jenny Conlee, their keyboardist, could give Rick Wright of Pink Floyd a run for his money on the keys… (yes, I know he’s dead, darlings…. that’s not the point). They can do both perfect, Beatles-esque four minute pop songs (check out 16 Military Wives) or 20 minute pieces with multiple movements (Check out The Tain, with its guitar hook as good as anything Jimmy Page or Jack White ever came up with)
Note that they inspire theatricality, and do yourself a favour and watch The Tain, and then pick your favourite version of The Mariner’s Revenge Song….
I suppose this might also explain my eye-rolling and distaste for the bubblegum pop music that floods the airwaves — music that displays little technical skill or instrumentation — nor, it could be said, any actual knowledge of music. I heard the most recent Taylor Swift, for example, and wonder if there were even any instruments in the studio at the time.
Likewise, when the hottest thing out there (and yes I know this is a couple years old) is “Let’s have fun, this beat is sick, I wanna take a ride on your disco stick,” my eyes nearly roll right out of my head and on to the floor.
I will always prefer the sound of people playing in a room than something created by computers — I will always prefer the literate to the banal — I don’t care how catchy the tune is. You know what else is catchy? Chlamydia. Don’t want that, either.