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The Decemberists

  • Her Majesty...,
  • The Hazards Of Love,
  • The King Is Dead,

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    The Decemberists

    Related Artists - REM, Belle And Sebastian, The Beatles
    Related Genres - Alternative

    Her Majesty...( 2003 )
    Shanty For The Arethusa / Billy Liar / Los Angeles, I'm Yours / The Gymnast, High Above The Ground / The Bachelor And The Bride / Song For Myla Goldberg / The Soldiering Life / Red Right Ankle / The Chimbley Sweep / I Was Meant For The Stage / As I Rise

    A series of idiosyncratic vocals backed by often delicate, often Beatles poppy super melodies. A series of songs so attentively built, its a wonder they weren't designed, rather than played. Someone in The Decemberists has an amount of talent, that much is clear. So, The Decemberists? Well, they're the kind of band, albeit with a different vocal inflection, that reminds of Belle And Sabastian. Folk pop, I suppose. A layered build up of instrumentation, but those distinctive vocals, and vocal melodies, are ultimately what hold sway. We've serious stuff here too, the seven minute plus 'The Gymnanst, High Above The Ground' is the kind of story-telling rare in pop these days. Here, we've story-telling with intelligence, character and delicate violin touches. A song such as 'Red Right Ankle', musically, is just acoustic guitar. Vocally and lyrically however, it holds your attention. Another acoustic led masterpiece, of sorts. Pop masterpieces arrive with the impossibly catchy likes of 'Billy Liar', and those Beatles melodies come through. Such simple, happy and bouncy melodies, life-affirming types of melodies that not too many bands are able create. 'Billy Liar' is a summer masterpiece cut from the same cloth as many Sixties pop masterpieces. Here, we have such a piece presented with nineties/noughties production, but that doesn't matter. The quality is the same. It's a rare quality.

    Curious musical qualities and wordplay are all over the likes of the enjoyably bouncy 'Chimbley Sweep', 'Los Angeles, I'm Yours' is another of those agreeable pop treasures, very affable indeed. Very repeat playable and perfectly constructed. The closing 'As I Rise' is a sheer wonder, the very sound of the song evoking all sorts of glories, all sorts of spine chilling wonderful moments your life has given you. All within two minutes and fourteen seconds. It doesn't need any more time.

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    Readers Comments

    john, county kildare john.j.doyle@nuim.ie
    my uncle claims he was the first person in the world to buy a copy of this.what a lying git! but i think i can forgive him, as he has introduced me to a really excellent group. brimming with highlights. 9/10.

    The Hazards Of Love 9 ( 2009 )
    Prelude / The Hazards Of Love 1 / A Bower Scene / Won't Want For Love (Margaret In The Taiga) / The Hazards Of Love 2 / The Queen's Approach / Isn't It A Lovely Night? / The Wanting Comes In Waves-Repaid / An Interlude / The Rake's Song / The Abduction Of Margaret / The Queen's Rebuke-The Crossing / Annan Water / Margaret In Captivity / The Hazards Of Love 3 / The Wanting Comes In Waves (Reprise) / The Hazards Of Love 4

    If I seem to have missed out 'Picaresque' and 'The Crane Wife', I do apologise. I certainly have these albums in my collection but somehow I had tired of The Decemberists. Over the years I suppose The Decemberists have managed what you might call an organic evolution rather than revolution, yet comparing 'Hazards Of Love' to the kind of material they were doing five years ago reveals a somewhat dramatic evolution all the same. This is the kind of material that could provide a breakthrough for them. The arrangements are better, the playing is certainly better - they can really rock out now. All in all, 'Hazards Of Love' is too accomplished to ignore, even for me.

    In case you forget what the album is called, four songs bear the title (or subtitle) 'The Hazards Of Love'. The first one, titled 'The Pretty Whistles' reminds me of 'Out Of Time' era REM quite strongly, but that's a good thing in my book, so all is well. This sense of an acoustic bass yet with many delicate and thoughtful embellishments give 'Hazards Of Love' a cohesive feel that when linked in with four title tracks, in effect means that The Decemberists have done more here than just release a bunch of songs. 'Isn't It A Lovely Night' for instance sees male and female vocals alternate and then combine over the barest of musical backing, yet you sense the arrangement is spot on, especially when the olde-english feel turns a little country with the arrival of bass and pedal steel. Excellent stuff.

    'The Wanting Comes In Waves' is arguably the finest thing Decemberists have done to date. This is a six minute plus, multi-segmented tune with intelligent lyrics, guitars, quiet bits and a tune to kill a pidgeon from thirty paces away. You know what it reminds me of, the creative spirit if not the sound? The Beatles 'White Album'. Now, that's high praise indeed. Further to this highpoint, 'An Interlude' proves that even The Decemberists doodles are now better than ever before and given thoughtful and emotionally affecting arrangements. 'The Rakes Song' is another winner in our house and I want to throw a few superlatives at 'Hazards Of Love' right about now.

    Superlatives? How about finishing by saying this is the widest, finest, cutest, hottest, biggest, fattest, lightest, neatest, fastest, happiest, silliest, loneliest, most interesting and best album of 2009 so far.

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    Readers Comments

    gazza edinburgh
    A quite wonderful live album , it shows all the facets of jeffs talent pretty well , his exquisite vocals,powerful guitar playing,his unpredictability . Music just flowed from this guy . Key tracks : dream brother, and eternal life (both better than the recorded versions) , what will you say ? , and hallelujah/i know its over where jeff provides his best vocal performance . Life is cruel sometimes , but this music gives us hope that something better and kinder is always possible .

    Jeremy berg London
    This is an absolute, unexpected wonderful surprise. I had never heard of The Decemberists before hearing this album which hits home instantly, and is set to live on as a classic. There is something timeless and magnificent about it which makes me want to listen repeatedly, which in these days of restlessness and impatience is a rare thing. It's ultra modern and yet, at the same time, a complete throwback to the 70s (I am not sure whether I mean the 1970s or 1870s with some of this music!)- it makes me nostalgic and yet, somehow, excited to find out what they will produce next.

    Dave Cape Town
    That's convinced me to actually buy the album not acquire it by other means. Adrian- don't miss The Crane Wife, it really is astounding.

    The King Is Dead 8 ( 2011 )
    Don't Carry It All / Calamity Song / Rise to Me / Rox in the Box / January Hymn / Down by the Water / All Arise! / June Hymn / This Is Why We Fight / Dear Avery

    Decemberists have done originality, they've done indie and folk and pop. This time around, they borrow a few sounds and styles from REM, Bob Dylan and Gram Parsons. 'Calamity Song' for instance is pure Peter Buck and 80s REM, it chimes and goes round in circles. Peter Buck plays on three of the album tracks by the way and Gillian Welch provides some vocals. Yes, Peter Buck does play on 'Calamity Song' which sounds more REM than REM do, these days. 'The King Is Dead' is essentially a superbly crafted, consistent set of roots-pop songs done with some panache. The arrangements are spot-on throughout often with Harmonica, fiddle, etc fleshing out the sound. Yes, 'Rise To Me' is a shocking steal from Bob Dylan but this word-weary song is also a tired, country delight. Peter Buck pops up again for the rockier 'Down By The Water', listen and there he is chiming away in the background, going round in circles like he does. I like Peter Buck, he knows his music and provides a sense of authenticity to 'The King Is Dead' in some ways. Elsewhere on the record 'Rox In The Box' and 'All Arise!' go for fiddles to lend an Irish taste to proceedings whilst the unassuming 'January Hymn' is a quiet lovely reflective pause, shorn of the Alternative/Country-Rock trappings the album offers elsewhere. In that respect, it's closer to the bands earlier material although arguably, nowhere near as quirky. Whether you feel that's a good or a bad thing is of course entirely down to personal taste, but I really like the execution and the vocals here.

    'June Hymn' is another nod towards Dylan, acoustic and guitar and harmonica, with lilting bass arriving later on. It's a sweet moment whilst Peter Buck pops up for the third and final time to lend his chiming, jangly guitar to help the cause of 'This Is Why We Fight', not a song i'm particularly attracted to either lyrically or musically, the switching into the louder bursts of rock sounding like clumsy trips over bales of hay. Running to five and a half minutes, it also lacks the care many of the other song arrangements have across 'The King Is Dead' and it's ten songs length. 'Dear Avery' sounds all the world like a commercial take on the original eccentric and quirky Decemberists folk nature. That's the main problem with the album overall, it's a fairly safe and ordinary type of record for an intelligent band like The Decemberists. Yes, it's often stunningly executed and contains quite a few clear winning moments, yet i'm not convinced it has quite the same depth as their very finest work.

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    this page last updated 24/4/11

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