So, The Decemberists. I know I've uploaded some of their songs here before, but here are some more and an album review. The Decemberists have just released their new album, "Hazards of Love", their second since they moved from their indie label to Capitol Records. This is my favoritest band in the whole world and it's with only a small amount of bias that I think this is the best album of the year, even though we're barely a fourth of the way into 2009.
I had a hard time choosing just a few tracks to upload, because HoL, even more than The Crane Wife, is meant to be listened to as a single entity. Every track flows smoothly into the next and hearing one song only reveals part of the story. But I've chosen a few of my favorites to share in the hopes that more people will discover this album.
So far most of the reviews I've seen have been polar opposites; people either love it or hate it. And I'll admit, it's probably not going to be for everyone. HoL is a fantasy rock opera of great ambition, a concept type of album that draws from so many sources I'm still picking them out as I listen. Colin Meloy has cited inspiration from an obscure British folk album (of the same title), 60s rock, and Led Zeppelin, to name a few. The songs shift from folk to blues to metal (power chords in a Decemberists album, I'm honestly shocked, but very pleased), from the use of an organ and a very Baroque harpsichord-esque setting on the piano to what I swear are very country/folk sounding guitar riffs. At first part of me was disappointed that this wasn't much like anything The Decemberists had done previously, but after a few listens all the way through, I am thoroughly hooked and incredibly pleased to see this kind of musical growth for the band. Colin Meloy is one of the best songwriters I've ever heard, and while his signature heights of vocabulary aren't as present here as they were in past songs, there are some gems of wordplay nonetheless.
The story follows Margaret, a young girl known for sweetness and generosity of spirit, and William, the shape-shifting adopted son of the Forest Queen. They fall in love and meet secretly in the forest, until Margaret gets pregnant. This makes the Queen angry and she refuses to let William leave to be with Margaret, but after William pleads with her she allows them one more night together. Then in another "hazard of love", of which there are many throughout the story, Margaret is abducted by a rake. William eventually travels to rescue her, but there is, of course, a tragic ending that I won't spoil.
I could go on and on about this album, but instead I'll give you a few of my favorite tracks. The first features guest vocalist Becky Stark (of a band called Lavender Diamond that I'm unfamiliar with) and has an interesting mix of folk type vocals over a blues riff and strong beat. One keeps thinking it shouldn't work, but it does and it's fabulous.Won't Want For Love (Margaret in the Taiga)
The second starts out with Colin Meloy's usual unique vocals (as the character of William) and more of the harpsichord. Until, of course, it flows into a pounding drumbeat and a squealing electric guitar before introducing a powerful guest appearance by Shara Worden (of another band I don't know, My Brightest Diamond) playing the Forest Queen. I absolutely love the riffs in this track and I wish I could see this performed live. It must be an amazing show.The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid
I had some trouble picking just one more, but I really love this next track. The title comes from an old British folk song which I'm quite fond of, so it was interesting to see it here in another context (but still telling a similar story, with two lovers on opposite sides of the dangerous river). Much of the song is very true to its folk roots, but my favorite sections are when all the instruments drop out and are replaced by a gorgeous organ and beautiful vocals in harmony. Annan Water
I can't recommend this album enough. It's absolutely epic and I haven't stopped listening to it since I got it. The CD will be in stores on Tuesday, and for now iTunes has it available for download. It's also streaming here
on Entertainment Weekly (though I had some trouble getting the player to work for me). I heartily recommend listening to the entire album in the correct order.