Friday, January 14, 2011

The King is Dead, The Decemberists (2011)

To me, music has always been about memory. Certain bands remind of certain periods in my life. Certain songs of certain people. And, some albums fit so perfectly with certain seasons. If music isn't about memory, then it's about dancing. Two very strange and different criteria for music. But, nonetheless, I have discovered these to be my truths.

I've had two major music phases of my life. The first was in junior high when I discovered my mother's Janis Ian record in the basement (if 'At Seventeen' doesn't fuck you up, you have no heart). I quickly found myself listening to female folk music all the time. This lead to all folk music. This lead to classic rock music. Then, in the middle of college, I switched over to the indie/hipster music. So much of the sound is weighted in classic rock that is seemed to be the natural progression. But, I removed myself from the folk music. Lately, I find myself going back and forth between the two styles of music. Always happy to have the memories associated with all of the bands and songs.

On hearing the first single, 'Down By the Water,' off the new Decemberists' record, I was confused by its simplicity. The last two Decemberists albums have been too large, too over the top, too demanding of attention. The albums felt more like operas than albums. I was concerned for the route the Decemberists were taking. In fact, I had all but given up on them as a band. Gone was the folky, playful games of their first two albums. Growth is good for any band, but running away from yourself is entirely different. So the stripped down single showed a bit of promise.

The whole albums is sparse... for a Decemberists album. Even more sparse than their first albums. This is the Decemberists do Americana. After my first listen, I thought to myself 'a mix of folk and indie music might just be what I need.' And, for a first listen, that was true. But, on repeated listens... the folk comes a little too close to crossing over into country. But, not even country. Just a very bland, invisible sound. The Decemberists have now run so far away from where they ran to in the first place?

This is not to say this is a bad album. It is a boring album. But, for the Decemberists, this might not be the worst thing. They needed to clam down and come back to earth. Perhaps, their next effort will be the perfect mix?

'This is Why We Fight' is certainly a Decemberists top ten song. Alright, probably number ten... but, still, I'm giving them a little bit of credit. It's nice to hear a sad and lovely song from a band that once wrote the most beautiful sad and lovely songs. A bit of a return to form for them. The majority of the songs on the album just kind of float around your ears. It's a great album for background. Or, for cleaning the house. For a long road trip... the lyrics come to you pretty quickly.


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