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The Decemberists - The Tain CD (album) cover


The Decemberists


Prog Folk

3.78 | 23 ratings

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4 stars “She's a salty little pisser, with your cock in her kisser - but now she's a will of her own”

March 4th of 2004 heralded Portland, Oregon based band THE DECEMBERISTS’ interim EP ‘The Tain’ released on Acuarela Discos, taking its place in between the 2003 album ‘Her Majesty’ and the 2005 recording of ‘Picaresque’. ‘The Tain’ is an 18-minute epic song split into five chapters all based on the Irish myth “Táin Bó Cúailnge” or “The Cattle Raid of Cooley.” Each chapter is marked by changes in overall tone, rhythm, pace, and speaker. Part I through III display lead singer Colin Meloy’s voice as different characters exclusively, except for part III which use chorus-like waifs. The album was recorded over a four day period with the aid of Chris Walla of DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE during which the band members reportedly slept on the floor in between takes—briefly reminiscent of extremist bands such as SET FIRE TO FLAMES or A SILVER MT. ZION.

Part I of ‘The Tain’ begins with the narration courtesy of “The Crone” marked by Chris Funk’s precarious guitar craft creating an overall languid and leisurely tone. Part II sees the immergence of Rachel Blumberg on drums and some rather discordant electric guitar. The content of Part II seems to recount a battle scene where the character “Husband” and “Captain” are sung again by Meloy. Part III brings the tone down again allowing a cello-backed folk funk—and by funk I mean depression-formed atmosphere— which slowly builds with the introduction of “The Waifs” in partnership of “The Soldier” who seems to be Ulster hero “Cúchulainn.” Part III eventually merges into Part IV as a waltz accompanied by accordion and other gypsy instrumentation. Part IV is also marked by the change from Meloy’s lead singing to Blumberg’s mellow, childlike incantations which are at time paralleled by male accompaniment. Part IV gradually fades into dissonance while cadence style drums usher in Part V which reintroduces the riffage of Part I but this time on lanky electric guitar. The final part of the 18-minute epic ends with an almost worn out repetition of a compressed Part I verse.

If ever one needed affirmation of the Decemberists’ status as a progressive folk standard-bearer, they need not look further than ‘The Tain’. At times the album is markedly amateur in its attempt to be something greater than it really is, and in comparison to later works such as ‘Picaresque’and ‘The Crane Wife’, ‘The Tain’ is less of a full on effort though it remains just as equally compelling. ‘The Tain’ is comparable to works like GREEN CARNATION’s ‘Light of Day, Day of Darkness’ and TV ON THE RADIO’s ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’, if not in length, then by the sense of epic musical storytelling.

‘The Tain’ offers an undeniable wealth of progressive folk musicality, though some may be compelled to argue. ProgArchives defines progressive rock as having “Long compositions, sometimes running over 20 minutes, with intricate melodies and harmonies that require repeated listening to grasp…often described as epics”; “Lyrics that convey intricate and sometimes impenetrable narratives, covering such themes as science fiction, fantasy, history, religion, war, love, and madness” and “subdivi[ision] into movements in the manner of a classical suite” all standards which are met by this album. This album also offers many instruments decidedly culture-based reminiscent of FAIRPORT CONVENTION such as the accordion, glockenspiel, bottles, toy instruments, and mandolins as a nod to the pre-Christian Irish setting. But perhaps one of the most “folk” parts of the album are Colin Meloy’s workings of the narrative itself which is still yet loosely based on the actual story. Each movement is distinct in its poetic verse and intensely impacting verbiage compliments of a creative writing major taking poetic license at certain caricatures within the story.

Taking into account the time, manner, and state of experience of the band in which the album was recorded I give ‘The Tain’ 4 out of 5 stars due to its clear cut progressive folk storytelling, songwriting and instrumentalization while remaining entertaining throughout as well as having a healthy replay value both in meditative or cognitive moods or simply while “hanging out” in the car on the way to an event. The album does suffer, however, from less-than-perfect sound recording as well as its identifiably slapdash recording quality—possibly explaining its pervasiveness on college stations in my city—but these factors do not entirely detract from this recording and I would like to see it re-released with perhaps a series of other cuts in a remastered version.

“They settled dust in your hair to watch you shake and shout it out.

With our armaments bared, we shed our bags and travel alls.”

CalamityDaemon | 4/5 |


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