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The Decemberists - The Tain CD (album) cover


The Decemberists


Prog Folk

3.77 | 24 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars THE DECEMBERISTS are so knowingly clever, so refreshingly different to the run-of-the-mill inconsequentialities we normally get served up as music, that I can't help liking them. When they combine that with sheer musical genius, as they do with this EP, they are impossible to resist.

This EP is a single eighteen minute song, telling the tale of Queen Medb's cattle raid on Ulster, focusing on the hero CuChulainn's defense of the sacred bull. This will not be immediately obvious from the lyrics! For most listeners this will be somewhat off-putting: obscure lyrics demanding careful distillation are, in this instant age, a handicap rather than an asset. But COLIN MELOY will have it his own way, and tells his story with the use of metaphor and allusion.

A short-cut to understanding this song is to watch the video on Pitchfork Media. The video is captioned, explaining the major events of the story, and definitely improves the listening experience. A link to this video can be found on The Tain's wikipedia entry.

The music is superb. Opening and closing with a tritone riff straight from the BLACK SABBATH lexicon, the song moves from hard rock to folk to traditional Irish music and back again in five parts. Each part suits the music to the lyrics, and the lead in to the progressive finale is brilliant, as CuChulainn kills his childhood friend and the futility of war is laid bare. Yes, there is a message, and it's a cracking one.

This EP gives us the first hint of what is to come for this band. THE DECEMBERISTS will not be pigeon-holed, and use whatever style best suits the lyric. This, friends, is progressive rock as it was meant to be. I can't recommend this highly enough. It is eclectic enough to appeal to listeners far beyond the borders of prog-folk. 'The Tain' is as close to a five-star record as it gets, losing the fifth star only because of the obtuseness of the lyrics.

russellk | 4/5 |


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