Meet The Decemberists

I've been struggling with an awful cold for ten days now, so running has been pretty far from my thoughts (and even further from my aching body)! But as I've been convalescing, my other favorite subject -- music -- has been at the forefront of my existence as I've lain in bed capable of doing little else but listen.

And listen I have -- mainly to The Decemberists.

This band has generated a lot of buzz lately, as their most recent album, The Crane Wife, has drawn the attention of many media outlets, winning Best Album of 2006 on National Public Radio, and a mention in the Top 25 Albums of 2006 in Rolling Stone Magazine.

The Crane Wife is a truly excellent album, and it does a great job of showcasing songwriter Colin Meloy’s virtuosic use of melody and language to tell a compelling story. The album’s title comes from a Japanese folk tale, and indeed folk tales from all over the world seem to inspire Meloy. Other songs come from Shakespeare, or from spy movies, or from Meloy’s own vivid imagination.

I’m glad that this album – their first on a major label – has brought this amazing band to the attention of so many, but in my opinion, if you really want to experience the band at its best, try their 2005 release, Picaresque.

As you might imagine from the title, each song on this album could be its own picaresque novel, depicting the deeds (and misdeeds) of a variety of characters in time periods ranging from the middle ages to the present day. Opening the album with throbbing drum beats, “The Infanta” depicts a wild procession of royalty in some far-off land – maybe India – and Meloy’s words bring the colorful pageant to life. “Eli the Barrow Boy” tells a simple but heartbreaking tale of a poor, simple man, while “The Bagman’s Gambit” reads – or should I say “listens” – like a spy novel.

My personal favorite on this album is “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.” It’s a masterpiece that leaves you cackling with glee as you feel the satisfaction of a humble mariner who avenges his mother’s untimely death, even as it costs him his life. It’s immensely singable, and given what a compelling story the song tells, I’m convinced it will become a “ ’round-the-campfire” standard for future generations.

Already hooked on “The Decemberists,” or interested in hearing them live? They’ll be appearing at The Hollywood Bowl on July 7. Hollywood Bowl subscription holders (and those who'd like to purchase a subscription series) can order tickets online; the general public will be able to purchase tickets in a few weeks.

See you on the trail… as soon as I feel up to it!