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The Decemberists

Prog Folk

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3 stars The Decemberist's latest work, The Crane Wife, is not a terrible album overall. Though it is not as intracate as a Yes album, or as epic as a Dream Theater production, or as powerfull as a Jethro Tull effort, this is by no means a bad album. Each song is rather "happy." Now, this sounds like a cheesy description, but it is really the only way to explain it. At times, this music sounds like a Bare Naked Ladies song-- especially the shoter ones like "Summersong." For this, The Crane Wife can not be a masterpiece, or even an essential piece of progressive material, but it does have some great parts that really do shine.

In "The Crane Wife 1 & 2" there are some grat moments tword the middle. The real gem on this album, however, is "The Island." The three "movements" to the song go on just long enough and the middle section with the organ is simply magical.

AT A GLANCE: a strong album as far as catchyness goes, but many of the shorter songs are not "knockouts." This album contains some real gems like "The Island." If you happen to like anything acoustic, this is for you!


Report this review (#121852)
Posted Saturday, May 12, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars And all the stars were crashing 'round as I laid eyes on what I found As a band rising in popularity across the board, The Decemberists have been gaining gradually more attention for their intricate stories, heart-wrenching melodies, and overall musical prowess. It was these captivating qualities that led me to look in to this band. I always found their music somewhat enjoyable, but it was the 2006 release The Crane Wife which truly embodied all of the reasons why this band is amongst the top makers of modern music. The perfection of all aspects of their music, from voice to instruments to lyrics, makes this album an undeniable masterpiece.

This album is a collection of songs with two epics for centerpieces. Both musically surpass the majority of not just the band's own catalouge, but most music made from that year. After the lush and inviting acoustic piece, intro "Crane Wife 3" the listener is whisked away from pastoral beauty to the urgent melody which entails "The Island." Over the next twelve and a half minutes, a three part suite comprises "The Island" and is probably one of several highs on the album. The intro to the song echoes of influences from The Strawbs, Pink Floyd, and King Crimson (think "Easy Money"). The lyrics describe the setting of a pristine island which I believe is akin to Shakespeare's "The Tempest." However, this is when one is almost forced to realize the power which is held in the voice of frontman, Colin Meloy, as he croons the sad tale that the song emcompasses. Also, this is certainly the best guitar and keyboard performance on the albums as the pieces are played to perfection. The conception that The Decemberists are "just some other indie band" are almost certainly shattered by the impressive keyboard lines of middle section, "The Landlord's Daughter." This frantic procession of energetic instruments paired with the soaring vocals find resolve in the final of the three sections of "The Island" which is the acoustic cool-down of the majesty that had occured.

The next two songs, "Yankee Bayonet" and "Oh Valencia" are the two simpler songs on the album. However, don't let the lack of overall musical complexity fool you, the same craftiness and prowess is portrayed here as much as the more sweeping of the tunes. Both are alike in that the emphasis is on melody and storytelling. "Yankee Bayonet" tells the story of a solider in the American Civil War communicating with his pregnant wife from beyond the grave, and features superb vocals from Meloy and Laura Veirs. "O! Valencia" is the first single off the album and was obviously chosen due to its unforgettable melody. However, the casual listener fails to recognize the "Romeo and Juliet"-like story of of two rivals, one who loves the other's sister in a gunfight and the brother shoots the sister, resulting in huge emotional conflict. This tension is mirrored in the song, but in a way that it does not interfere with its upbeat nature. Even more memorable is the extended video for the song, which involves love, betrayal, and murder, which juxtapose the upbeat song on which it is modeling.

The next general wave of songs keep up the consistancies of amazing melodies in both voice and instruments. The majority of the section keeps up a strong Jethro Tull influence, and are alike in the weight of the lyrics equal to the music. The music is captivating and time generally flies because of the driving rhythms of "The Perfect Crime #2" and "When the War Came." The album hits a bit of a snag with "Shankill Butchers," a downright eerie tale centering around an Anti-Catholic murdering group from Ireland and the mood is generally brooding as opposed to the rest of the album's optimistic despair. This contrasting mood is shown well in the soaring "Summersong" which presents simultaneously the beauty of summer and love and darker images like dead sailors and everything getting swallowed by waves. This pleasant track is marked by its mellow nature and could be used as a welcome mode of joyful relaxation at any time.

The overall "meat" of the album is contained in the next track "The Crane Wife 1&2" which, paired with the opening song, outlines the story from which the album gets its name. Basically, a man finds a sick crane on his doorstep and he nurses it back to health. Then, a woman appears in a similar fashion and she falls in love with the man and makes clothes of beautiful silk. Next, the man sees the crane weaving its feathers in to the silk and at this discovery, the man looses his crane and the wealth that it created. Over the eleven minute track, both the story and instruments are astounding, but it is the vocal melodies that take presence and capture the overall emotion that the album holds. The Decemberists have always been exceptionally powerful in slow, lingering ballads, but this one tops all others. Meloy delivers with a pitch-perfect performance and generally captivates the listener and lulls him or her in to the world of this Japanese folk tale and allows them to experience all that this tale and the band's musical interpretation has to offer. This song alone is truly not to be missed by any fan of music.

"Sons and Daughters" signals a return to the "optimistic despair" with lyrics signaling a greater hope and the music releflecting the positive shift after the heavy emotion of "The Crane Wife 1&2." I wholeheartedly recommend this album to people who appriciate melodic storytelling with a strong progressive tinge that seeps into the creative forces that make music. This album is sure to impress those who seek comfort or relaxation in music, but do not wish to sacrifice skill or musicianship to find such a comfortable musical fit. Overall, the way in which The Decemberists display such phenominal melodic workings tied with highly skilled musicians and a voice that constistantly provides memorable melodies leads me to give this album the rating of an essential masterpiece of progressive music.

Report this review (#121854)
Posted Saturday, May 12, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Ah, finally The Decemberists have been added to the Archives. I felt obligated to review what I feel is the best Decemberists album. Now I may not have heard everything they have to offer, but from what I have heard, this is definitely my favourite. I'll do the standard track by track review, starting with one of my favourites, The Crane Wife 3.

1. The Crane Wife 3:

This track opens the album very powerfully and from the first time I heard it, I loved it. This being the first Decemberists album I heard, I was practically hooked on them after hearing it. The length is a bit disappointing though, so I will give it 9/10

2. The Island: Come and See/ The Landlord's Daughter/ You'll Not Feel The Drowning:

This is THE best song on the album by far. It's a respectable 12 minutes long and all 3 parts are just the right length. They also flow so well from each part; it really is a joy to listen to. The organ is fantastic on here as well. 10/10 from me.

3. Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then):

This one is one of the more catchy fun songs on the album, and includes a good female guest performance by Laura Veirs. The duet singing is quite nice, and it's a nice change of pace from The Island. Not the greatest song on here though. 8/10

4. O Valencia!:

This one is one of my favourites. It's very upbeat and catchy, and I believe it is one of their best and most popular songs. This one is more Indie sounding than progressive, but it is still a great track. 10/10

5. The Perfect Crime #2:

The Perfect Crime is probably my least favourite on the album. It has a good catchy beat, but the lyrics leave a lot to be desired, not to mention the repeating of "It was a perfect, a perfect, a perfect, a perfect, a perfect, a perfect, a perfect, a perfect crime!" makes me sick to my stomach. 5/10 from me. It is really one of my least favourite songs from the band.

6. When The War Came

This is another weak song, IMO. The pace is pretty slow and it seems to drag on longer than I would have liked it to. Not as bad as the last one though. 6/10

7. Shankill Butchers:

This has to be another one of my favourites. It's almost as if they're telling a children's story, which has been turned into a scary story that would be told around the campfire, with an acoustic guitar accompanying the story teller. The pace is very slow, but it works for the song. There is barely anything other than some acoustic guitar, background singing and some tambourine, but it is quite amazing. 9/10

8. Summersong

Another one of the catchy fun songs on the album, as well as being the shortest on song on the album. Not exactly the best song, but definitely not a bad one either. I do quite enjoy the lyrics on this track. 7/10

9. The Crane Wife 1 & 2

This is another great song on this It starts off slow, with the story being built up. It then starts to build in speed and intensity, until at about 2:30 when it explodes and they start to explain the story more. There is a short instrumental interlude between the 2 songs, before they start up again with the lyrics. The Crane Wife 1 & 2 is definitely one of my favourites on the album. 9/10

10. Sons & Daughters

This is by far the catchiest song on the album IMO, and I can see it being quite fun to see live. The lyrics are quite odd and quirky, but they work somehow. They also repeat them for pretty much the whole song, but again, they work. My one problem with it is "Here all the bombs, fade away" gets repeated way too many times for my liking, which is why I will give it only 8/10

Overall, The Crane Wife is a pretty great album. If you are into acoustic guitar I would suggest this and any other Decemberists album to you. I give it a solid 4/5, as it is definitely an excellent addition to a prog collection.

Report this review (#121856)
Posted Sunday, May 13, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars I personally don't like The Decemberists' latest offering as much as their previous ones, as they've dropped the raw folk feel they had and went for a more clean well-produced approach. But this album does have great moments on it and ranks as easily their most progressive work to date.

Again there is a mix between progressive tracks and more conventional ones. None of them rank against the conventional side of "Picaresque" or any of the other earlier works, but there are still some very good ones. My favorites are Yankee Bayonet and Summersong. Yankee Bayonet would have to be my favorite of the shorter songs. I prefered Petra Haden's vocal collaboration on "Picaresque", but Laura Veirs is also very good on this track. It is also one of The Decemberists' finer lyrical moments (which is saying a lot). Shankill Butchers is an interesting track, and ranks as one of the band's creepiest tracks. Unfortuantely the other tracks are rather lackluster. The Perfect Crime and When the War Came are the kind of tracks I have to force myself to listen to.

The progressive moments are where the band really shines here though. The Crane Wife tracks are all very good, though don't compare to The Island suite. It is certainly one of the band's greatest musical achievements. Certainly a phenomenal epic from a very worthwhile band. Sons and Daughters is also different from their conventional songs, and is far and above the best closing track on any Decemberists album.

So not as much of a Prog Folk album, I'll recommend this one to any Symphonic Prog fan who isn't afraid of a few shorter songs on their prog albums.

Report this review (#121860)
Posted Sunday, May 13, 2007 | Review Permalink
2 stars The album goes off to a powerful start, with Crane Wife 3 and especially the 12 minute highlight The Island. But unfortunately, this is where the non-prog stuff kicks in and takes away all the fuss created by the beautiful introduction. And the beautiful music doesn't get back until the last 2 tracks; lots of boring moments.

Actually, The Crane Wife is a very promising album. I like the band's effort, it is certainly not there for me with this album, but the way they have accomplished the long symphonic songs is high standard. I think they'll produce top class music if they go more prog, and maybe dark. It is a tricky choice now for them, as giving up indie audience would be a commercial loss.

Though I've not given the highest rating of all to this album, I'll be expecting their next release with anticipation. I have high hopes for this band.

Report this review (#122132)
Posted Monday, May 14, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars For me this is the album of the year if not the decade so far! It was not off my car cd for a solid 6 weeks and having owned it for a good 3 months or more, I still have to restrain myself from listening to it every day. Although musically it echoes british prog folk, prime REM, Talking Heads, CSNY and even Genesis in parts (add your own others here), the secret is in the lyrics. I've not heard such beautifully told stories since..... maybe not ever. Only Dylan in his full pomp of Desire and Blood on the Tracks comes close. Oh, I feel dirty just suggesting that this album reaches such peaks. Still it does and I am! Stories are of fueding families, drowned innocents (and innocence), secret kingdoms and genius thieves. The language is eloquent and inspired and an underlying darkness clings to all occasionally lit through with a unexpected humour. Parts of it made me cry!! Having said all that I know a few people who just can't get on with Colin Meloy's vocal style. Still, it's the same with Robert Zimmerman! The warning came up when I was about to award 5 stars but I have no qualms at all.
Report this review (#126394)
Posted Wednesday, June 20, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This was the band that I had never heard the name before until a colleague of mine, Rustam Effendy, visited Singapore and returned back home handing over this CD to me. Many many thanks, Rustam! At first spin, I was not quite impressed with the music as it contained a bit of folk music with many acoustic guitar and song orientated music. I guessed the band must be very strong in lyrical passages. I only occasionally spun the CD until I found this band was featured at this site. I tried to understand the progginess of the music, because this is a prog site with main focus on discussing prog music around the globe.

First off, on composition, this band offers a stream of music which revolves around tale using melody that represents the storyline with all the ups and downs, bright and dark passages. You might expect the melody-line is something like most of folk-based music is all about including those that Dylan or Joan Baez have done. The music is arranged with balanced acoustic as well as electric instruments like Hammond organ. However, the contribution of acoustic guitar is quite dominant almost in every single song. The music harmonies are good in almost every segment, producing clear and transparent vocal line and good rhythm section resulting from the sounds of acoustic guitar, bass, keyboard and drums. The music structure is much straight forward which made me questioning why this is considered as prog?

All songs contained in this album are easy to digest and they can be categorized as easy listening songs. The vocal line is really clear in conveying the message as required by the lyrics. "The Island" is an excellent song with good arrangements and strong melody as well as harmonies. The intro part presents the arrangement in its simplest way that makes the song quite easy to digest enjoy. So simple the introduction is that we can enjoy the music especially in its "groove". When the music enters its lyrical passages "There is an island in the sun ." accompanied by the acoustic guitar fills, it sounds great. "Come and see .. come and see .. yeaaaahhh ..".. This epic song is interesting and very enjoyable.

"The Perfect Crime No 2" is another song with good melody and arrangement with upbeat tempo. For some reason, the music reminds me to The Police (especially "Canary in the Coal Mine" song) but with more on acoustic touch. It's the rhythm section which flows like a reggae music with obvious beats. The insertion of organ sound during the song is really nice. My favorite track from this album is "Shankill Butchers" which to me sounds very simple plus nice melody and clear cut singing style. The opening part is just a vocal line accompanied by soft acoustic guitar rhythm. The next song "Summersong" is also a good one especially with its psychedelic nuance.

The songwriting skill is very good as all songs were written to represent passages of the storyline. Overall, this album is good. For those who love the music in acoustic setting, this is for you. The production quality in terms of sonic quality and packaging are good as well. Keep on proggin' .!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#129883)
Posted Monday, July 23, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars After Picaresque revealed what the band was capable of, The Decmeberists underwent a few lineup chages and signed to a major label. Sadly, Petra Haden is gone, but the band got a huge gain with guitarist Chris Funk, who would later duel Stephen Colbert and Peter Frampton. The Crane Wife is another step forward for the band and now the lyrics and music have come into fruition.

Keeping with Meloy's habit of out of order stories, The Crane Wife 3 opens the album witht he conclusion of the story. This is a great opener, which makes it all the more bizarre, since it should be a closer. The Island follows, and it is the best song The Decemberists have recorded so far in their career. A 12 minute epic that follows the sad tales of various people living on what is billed as an island paradise. The sections flow inot one another beautifully, and Meloy shows what a great vocalist he is. The song traverses moods from peppy acoustic to dark electric effortlessly. Other highlights include the rest of the title track, the tragic Civil War tale Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then), the incredibly light and poppy O Valencia!, the contrasting lovely summer imagery and death imagery of Summersong, and the catchy closer Sons & Daughters. All of these tracks mix great storytelling lyrics with unique and wonderful arrangements. Shankill Buthcers and When the War Came have excellent and serious lyrics, but the compostion just doesn't excite me the way it does on the other songs. The Perfect Crime #2 has great compostion but the lyrics aren't good.

Despite a few weak tracks, The Crane Wife is one of the more enjoyable albums of modern prog, as The Decemberists blend indie pop and prog folk almost flawlessly. The use of classical instruments and 19th century sounding music (this music sounds like it would be played in saloons) makes The Decemberists a strikingly unique band, and their moderate commercial success is surprising (no doubt helped by the appearance on the Colbert Report). If the trend of ever improving albums continue, this Portland band will soon be churning out masterpieces.

Grade: B+

Report this review (#130922)
Posted Tuesday, July 31, 2007 | Review Permalink
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars Aside from being the first vinyl album I've purchased in over twenty years, 'The Crane Wife' is a pleasantly fresh offering from a band that has steadily built a solid following over the past five or six years. I'm not sure what is motivating labels to start offering music on records again, but when I saw this one along with the CD version a few months ago I knew I had to have the vinyl. Oddly the spine labeling is upside-down, but the gatefold inner sleeve sports a nice Oriental-inspired charcoal drawing from band leader Colin Meloy's sweety Carson Ellis. She also contributed the slightly creepy sketch of Mr. and Mrs. Crane on the cover.

So the Decemberists are back with a new offering, and with a few changes as well. Dowdy diva Petra Hayden is sadly gone, although the multi-talented Jenny Conlee does a solid job of providing those bored harmonizing vocals that Hayden made such a trademark of the band. Also gone are pretty much everybody else except the core band lineup of Conlee and the just as multi-talented Chris Funk and bassist Nate Query, who also manages some time behind a cello as well. John Moen becomes the third drummer for the band, although former drummer Ezra Holbrook hangs around long enough to provide some backing vocals. Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Christopher Walla produces his second album for the band.

But most notably the band has departed their indie label Kill Rock Stars and sold out for a big fat distribution deal with Capitol Records. Typically moves like this result in a watered down version of a band with the rough edges chipped away to produce a blander version of themselves that ends up being just insipid enough to not offend anyone's sensibilities and yield millions in pre-teen record sales. Fortunately that doesn't seem to have happened here. Sure, the charmingly amateurish production of 'Picaresque' and the disjointed song selection of 'Her Majesty' are a thing of the past, but frankly that was bound to happen as these guys jelled together after several years of nearly endless touring together.

Meloy's songwriting skills are keenly honed, so much so that he effortlessly slips into marginally indie pop territory a couple of times without even seeming to try. But that's okay too - overall this is a very solid offering, and the band's indie background may in fact prove too strong to ever completely shake free from. Guest musicians include the eccentric and somewhat recluse Eyvind Kang on strings, as well as a great vocal appearance by fellow Portlander and nerd goddess Laura Veirs.

From the opening notes of "The Crane Wife 3" this seems like yet another acoustic-guitar and odd vocal-driven affair starring my favorite geek Colin Meloy. The syncopated snare and hand drums, along with Query's foot-tapping bass, give this a bit richer sound than some of the band's previous works though, and Conlee more than makes up for the absence of Hayden with her backing vocals. This album is a loosely coupled combination of an old Japanese tale of a crane turned woman who is rescued by a kindly man who nurses her to health but ends up unknowingly driving her to self-destruction through his own greed. Sort of a musical variation of the late Shel Silverstein's parable 'The Giving Tree'.

I said combination because the other theme that runs through the album is based on the once-forgotten Shakespeare play The Tempest. If you are familiar with Meloy's literary bent this comes as no surprise, and I have to wonder how many of the characters off the Decemberists' previous albums 'Castaways & Cutouts' and 'Her Majesty' were also inspired somewhat by this tale. The Tempest is too complex to summarize quickly, so let Google lead you to a good synopsis on-line some time if you're really curious.

Most of Meloy's version of The Tempest is contained in the trilogy "The Island", an eleven-minute affair consisting of the tracks "Come And See", "The Landlord's Daughter", and the fateful "You'll Not Feel The Drowning"; as well as the epilogues "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)" and the somewhat unrelated token hit single "O Valencia!". Musicallythis is ostensibly folk, although the more staid fans of the genre would probably argue it's a bit too polished in places to be a true representation. Fortunately I don't have that problem, and find these tracks to be utterly enjoyable and uplifting.

"Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)" also features the most prominent vocals besides Meloy's that appear on any Decemberists album. While Meloy has employed female backing singers since his days with the alt-country band Tarkio, this is the first and only time he yields an equal billing to someone else. Laura Veirs is a well-known modern folk singer from the USA west coast, and she gives this particular song a welcome richness and melodic tint. The band has had a number of guest singers (sometimes impromtu costars or opening acts( when performing this track on their live tour over the past year. The most recent femme de jour was Talkdemonic vocalist Lisa Molinaro, who isn't actually a band member, but did an admirable job on the band's tour supporting this release.

"O Valencia!" is clearly the band's attempt at a hit single, and the band went all-out to promote it. This included a famous 'green screen challenge' featured on YouTube and the Comedy Central faux news show The Colbert Report, as well as a well-publicized appearance on Late Night with David Letterman last winter. The story is a clear cop of West Side Story, with a young Turk who comes from the wrong side of town for his lover's family's tastes. In the end of course the girl is inadvertently slain by her own family as a result of a fight between the overprotective brothers' and Meloy's character. I'll be the first to admit this is clearly a pop song musically, but the story line is definitely its saving grace.

The weakest track was probably another attempt at a single, "The Perfect Crime No.2". This is a peppy-sounding tune, but lacks both the substance and charm of most of the band's other works. As near as I can tell this is some sort of Bonnie and Clyde kind of tale with whorish flappers and goon-men and bank robberies and G-men. So its set in the early 20th century, which is pretty modern for a Colin Meloy song. Pleasant enough to listen to, but not on-par with the band's better stuff.

The band turns heavy on the dirge-like "When the War Came", a bizarre theme even for the oddball Meloy. As near as I can tell this is about Nikolai Vavilov (a Russian botanist) who was credited as one of the fathers of modern plant genetics. Apparently Vavilov was also responsible for amassing the largest collection of plant seeds and samples in the world around the time of World War II. Some have even condemned him for protecting this collection of edible seeds during the starvation deaths of many of the million and a half Russians who died during the Siege of Leningrad in that war. This is also undoubtedly the only song you'll ever hear that manages to rhyme the words "solanum" and "asteraceae" (hell if I know - look them up yourself).

Once more into history with "Shankill Butchers". This one is a very laid-back, acoustic guitar, accordion and bouzouki tinged tune about the ruthless Ulster Protestant highwaymen who abducted and murdered Catholics in Northern Ireland in the 1970's. This one seems a bit close to home for the Irish-descendant Meloy, and for probably the first time I get the impression he isn't making light of this blot on history. I've heard the red blood splotches on the album's cover, inside jacket, and Conlee's blouse are tributes to the fallen Catholics of that violent period.

Instrumentally "Summersong" is kind of interesting, featuring not only the usual acoustic guitar and cello, but also a glockenspiel courtesy of Conlee, a hurdy-gurdy from guitarist Chris Funk that was reportedly acquired during the recording of 'Picaresque', and a little pedal steel. Lyrically this is probably the most trite thing Meloy ever penned, a tribute to the end of summer that might also be referring to the end of a civilization or community as a result of war. Hard to tell with Meloy, but this is a rather forgettable tune for the most part.

The band returns to the beginning of the album with "The Crane Wife 1 & 2", telling the end of the story when the greedy husband discovers his wife is actually producing his wealth by consuming her crane self and spinning her own feathers into glorious clothing that he has been selling to finance his grand lifestyle. In the end she flies off never to return. This song moves back into a folkish bent, with delicate percussion and gentle strings and acoustic strumming. An appropriately staid and mournful arrangement to represent the sad end of the story.

But Meloy leaves us on a high note with the closing "Sons and Daughters", a lyrical round that was obviously meant to be performed live, probably as a closing number for a concert. You not only picture the audience swaying back and forth while chanting about reconstructing a war-ravaged land, but you will likely find yourself singing along full of hope and charity yourself. At least I hope so - that's the whole point:

"Take up your arms sons and daughters, we will arise from the bunkers;

by land, by sea, by dirigible - we'll leave our tracks untraceable now.

When arrive sons and daughters, we'll make our lives on the water;

we'll build our walls aluminum, we'll fill our mouths with cinnamon..

Hear all the bombs fade away, hear all the bombs fade away, hear all the bombs fade away."

Well, there you go. Is this stuff progressive music? I think so. More importantly, Colin Meloy and the Decemberists have an uncanny knack for completely absorbing the essence and tragedy as well as the irrepressible beauty of the human condition through wildly woven tales of despair and of redemption; and in eliciting compassion and understanding in all who hear them. That's the same kind of connection Woody Guthrie and Neil Young and Bob Dylan and Barry McGuire and Roger McGuinn and Peter Paul & Mary and Pete Seeger and so many others spent their lifetimes trying to make. And it's the kind of connection that makes music so addictive and so important. Music does matter, and Colin Meloy sure gets that. Despite the occasional commercial leaning and the couple of less grand tracks, this is one of the most important albums of this young century, and one with a depth that ensures it will have staying power beyond the next few years. And for that I think it will earn the title of 'masterpiece', although for now I'll anoint it a strong four-star effort with the promise to be back to add the other star some day. Very highly recommended.


Report this review (#139050)
Posted Tuesday, September 18, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is a really good album for when a prog rock fan doesn't feel like he's listening to prog rock. All the elements of well-written, rich music are here, but on the surface it just sounds like pleasant music. The storytelling in the lyrics is superb, because you can follow the story, but it's not so overly-specific that you can't just forget about what they're singing and just enjoy it. The instrumentation definitely stays interesting--and some of the organ/synth stuff even reminds me of some early Genesis Tony Banks tones. The Island is the standout track--listen to that one if you're curious. My interest kind of trails off during the Crane Wife parts 1 & 2, but other than that, they're all standout tracks. This is also a good album to expose other's to the more progressive side of modern music--they won't even realize it. Tool is usually a gateway band for metal fans to get into prog. This album is a good gateway for fans of lighter music. I think even your grandparents could appreciate this.

3.5 stars from a strcitly prog standpoint. 4.5 stars from a general music standpoint. (In the end, it's only music anyway.)

Report this review (#151080)
Posted Friday, November 16, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars East meets West (and not in that Rush Hour, bit crap type of Hollywood fashion) in The Decemberist's 2006 album The Crane Wife. Take one of the most Victorian sounding bands since the aforementioned era, and let them loose on an old Japanese tale, and watch the magic unfold. First of all, the tale is told in a Tarantino type fashion, with the end (Part 3) kicking off the album, with that forlorn, dying love gloom that the Decemberists can do over and over and over again. The second to last track on the hour long romp is The Crane Wife Parts 1 and 2 which clocks in at over 10 minutes. Colin Meloy (pardon this next textile pun) weaves a good story with the lyrics, putting it lightly and just to the point where his lyrics and his voice sounds downright beautiful There's a bend in the wind/And it rakes at my heart/There is blood in the thread/And it rakes at my heart. The tone he puts into it makes it more believeable as a story, so props to Mr. Meloy there. This 15 minute epic is a great piece of prog-folk and forms the backbone of the album. I only wish they tried incorporating some Eastern Instuments, like a koto or a shamisen or something, into the song as I believe it would've added another dimension to the tale. But that's no reason to knock the song, as this way, The Crane Wife (the song) puts a fine Victorian, Western spin on the tale.

There also are 8 other songs on the album, that range in scope and scale. The Perfect Crime #2 is a single, through and through but this doesn't mean it's not a good song. It's very dancey if that word doesn't exist, and, while not a showcase for Colin's most intelligent lyrics, is a fun romp.

The Decemberists also penned another single in O! Valencia which also sounds nice and happy with the bouncy melody, until one hears the lyrics. The chorus goes thusly But O Valencia!/With your blood still warm on the groud/Valencia!/And I'll burn this whole city down. It's the happiest Romeo and Juliet style tragedy I've ever heard, I'll give it that.

Colin's soft croon has to share the limelight on Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then), with Laura Veir able to match Colin, with fine results. Not much else to say on this nice little track, but good lyrics by Colin, whose in his old-timey element with the Civil War-centric tale of love and leaving.

Now time for the track of the album award, which goes to...

THE ISLAND! (which also contains a bunch of subtitles, but I really don't care to include them)

This song probably cemented the case for why The Decemberists should be included on ProgArchives. It's 12 minutes long, and multiple movements. The lyrics are based around my personal favorite Shakespeare play, The Tempest. It starts off with a very Pink Floydy, King Crimsony guitar riff and doesn't let go for the rest of the song. Waves crash, solos abound, all a sublimely lush atmosphere. Colin's voice demonstrates a full range that would be harder to achieve in the Decemberists old atmosphere. Over the course of the song, it goes from sounding mystical and foreboding, and vengeful and maniacal, with superb effect. A gem.

Finally, The Crane Wife closes with Sons and Daughters with an optimism that also didn't seem possible when listening to some of the earlier songs. It ends on a very uplifting note, though still seems to be inevitably laced with an air of unease, like the joyous rebuilding process after a long, bloody war.

Overall, a marvel of modern prog and prog folk. I have a bit much trepidation in giving this a 5 star rating, due to some of the middle songs which come off as somewhat lackluster, but I can safely give it an extremely beefy 4 stars. For prog listeners who want to hear more prog folk than just Jethro Tull and the Strawbs, this is also a great album for indie music fans to dive into the world of progressive music. I finally recommend this to people who love a good story, as Meloy's a master at this craft. Everyone however, must listen to The Island right now.

And on that imperative, commanding note, I'll end my review of The Crane Wife. Or on that summation and stepping back from the review Or on breaking the fourth wall of reviewing.

(Little note, sorry for the cop-out ending of my review, but I couldn't find the right way out of this)

Report this review (#159539)
Posted Tuesday, January 22, 2008 | Review Permalink
The T
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I had never heard THE DECEMBERISTS before I read a comment in the forum saying that it was one of best non-prog releases of 2006. I purchased the album out of curiosity and I immediately agreed with part of that statement: the part that said it was one of the best albums of the year. I didn't agree on the non- prog part as I thought, from the beginning, that this was a progressive rock album, no doubt about it. Time changed things and now I can review this record on Progarchives, as a prog album in a totally prog genre.

The music here is quite terrific. Take a little bit of classic bands like Jethro Tull or Yes or Camel, add a little bit of current bands like REM or U2, throw some truly americana elements in the mix, add a very progressive instrumentation (mellotron included) and you have The Crane Wife as a result. The music sounds at times as full-blown prog (The Island) and at times as good alternative rock (Yankee Bayonet). But even in the latter case, it's all done with an attention to detail and with a richness of craft that it's still very close to prog standards. The music has a distinctive folk-sy flavor to it, american folk, of course; think, at times, in an american answer to Jethro Tull. You can read the lyrics and some themes in the album and the idea will become even clearer.

The highlights are, of course, The Island, the 12+ minute song that really cries the word progressive ut loud, The Crane Wife 1&2 (another long song), but also shorter songs like the delicious The Perfect Crime or the REM-ish Yankee Bayonet. Colin Meloy has a great gift for melody and songwriting and he makes the most of it in this endurable record that shall appeal to both indie-rock fans and prog-rock lovers alike.

The level of musicianship is very high as is the originality of the music. But, again, it's the melodies and the songs themselves who really steal the show and make this album a very good recommendation for music lovers.

Report this review (#162148)
Posted Monday, February 18, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars Now I see why The Decemberists are Progressive

This is my second album of The Decemberists, and this one is slightly harder to rate. Individual songs are easey enough after a few listens, but the Album as a whole is a bit harder. Unlike my first album from The Decemberists 'Her Magisty' which had a consistint feel all the way though, 'The Crane Wife' fluctuates slightly more. It moves from very hard rock, to very soft balids, to even (dare I say it) almost a pop/disco feel.

It's just like The Decemberists to start at the end. Anyone can start at the begining of the story, but isin't it more fun to start at the end and finish at the begining? Aparintly it is for the Crane Wife, starting the album off with 'The Crane Wife 3'. Its a wonderful way to start the album and set the mood. The story itself is told quite well after you listen to 'The Crane Wife 1+2'.

The Island, the best song on the album by far, and the best The Decemerists song I've heard yet is song 2. This is just a masterpease song. It has everything a good progressive song needs: good transistions from one sound to the next, complex peases and thoughtful lyrics. It has a beautiful opining, a perfict middle with beautiful keybord playing, and a wonderful soothing ending. This song alone would qualify the album for at least 3 stars alone.

The next two songs 'Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)' and 'O Valencia!' are your tipical 'The Decemberists' songs. They sound like filler on this album after 'The Island' though. They really dont fit after the Island, but they're still good songs none the less.

Here is where I run into a problem with this album: 'The Perfect Crime #2' and 'When The War Came'. 'The Perfect Crime #2' is way too poppy and almost discoie for me, and 'When The War Came' is too 'hard rock' for The Decemberists. This could be from their new gitar player, but on this album, it does not fit well. I can tell they're trying to streach their herizon in music, but on this album it sounds like they've over streached their grasp. I always skip right on to the 'Shankill Butchers'.

The 'Shankill Butchers' gets the album back on track, its creepy beyond all words and I love every minuet of it. It's only the acostic gitrar and vocals. We then go back to the typical Decemberists sound with 'Summersong'. The Final song on the album 'Suns and Daughters' has the same feel and finishes the album off quite well. It ends on a much needed happy note.

This leaves us with 'The Crane Wife 1&2'. As I said, the album starts at the end, and ends at the start. Like the Island, this one has 2 distinct faces to the song, part one and two. The first part is very progressive and I cant help but love it. Although part two is the very soothing balid part of the album. I dont think it flows quite well with part one, but it's a very nice way to continue the song in relations to the story of the Crane Wife.

Overall, this is an Excellent album. The individual songs very, from Essential listinings for any progressive fan (The Island, The Crane Wife 1-3), to poor ('The Perfect Crime #2' and 'When The War Came'). At first I thought 3 stars to balance the great with the not so great, and the album really doesnt sound sound like a complete album and the songs don't overly flow perficly from one to the next. But then again, this album is when listining to the album, the great songs overpower those not so good ones, earning it a respectful 4 stars, but it is far from the full 5 stars.

4 stars, (even though its a 3.7 rounded up).

Report this review (#162808)
Posted Wednesday, February 27, 2008 | Review Permalink
Prog-Folk Team
4 stars "The Crane Wife" shows a major progression over "Picaresque", pun intended. The compositions and arrangements have become much more ornate and just generally a lot less folky. That is not to say this is RIO or symphonic prog, since the folk influence is usually apparent, as is the indy rock element that provides such a refreshing change from our regular bill of fare.

On "Picaresque", I had opined that the band was most effective on their shorter material, regardless of where on the eclectic spectrum a particular contribution might fall. But on "The Crane Wife", the two longest tracks are so much more than just elongated sea shanties. Only one of them, "The Island", really impresses me but does it ever! This is a prog folk suite in a manner to embarrass some of the bigger names of the genre. The first part, "Come and See", is introduced with dense instrumental excursions before the sung portion takes us on crescendos from simply acoustic to layered textures of clanging guitars and insistent drums. The chorus is riveting, and this section is a lengthy tune in its own right. Next comes the hypnotic almost minimalist backing of "Landlord's Daughter", with Meloy still leading the charge in a jig like fashion, but only until organs crash down over us. Stormy music indeed. Finally, the spellbinding "You'll not feel the drowning", with its ebbing and flowing verse and chorus and its unmistakably ancient vibe.

The remaining shorter tracks show that the Decemberists can still handle the simple structures in compelling ways. "Yankee Bayonet" reminds me of the Pogues or Oysterband when they do duets with people like Christie MacColl. Again, the clanging guitars bring a breath of fresh aire to the proceedings. "Valencia" is another jolly romp with a singalong verse and chorus. If you have not heard the classic British folk rock group Lindisfarne, Decemberists are in this spirit. My favourite is the raunchy "When the War Came", which verges on heavy rock but yet remains in service of Meloy's uncanny melodic instincts. The mysterious keyboard touches can be picked up on the 2nd or 100th listen, and the chorus is an emotional fireball. Yet if some of these tunes are to the heavy side lyrically and musically, the Levellers or Proclaimers styled Summersong brings us back to familiar territory, another acoustic oriented intellectual foray. So the missteps of the boring "Shankill Butchers" and the anticlimatctic "Sons and Daughters" are readily forgiven.

This group is for real, and while I still think they lurk on the margins of prog, I no longer have a problem with their inclusion, even if their forerunners might not get the same treatment.

Report this review (#168981)
Posted Monday, April 28, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars Some bands from current Indie scene deserve to be heard and known by PA visitors, and I personally agree that THE DECEMBERISTS are truly the band of that kind. With epics alone, like 'The Island' and 'The Crane Wife 1/2', this album is worth of solid 3 stars, but I'll add an extra star for that massive melodic talent Colin Meloy seems to have. Even filler-like songs are catchy and memorable, with nice lyrics and tasteful arrangements. A new JETHRO TULL? Why not, actually? Some GENESIS can be heard as well, and despite that ugly Indie attitude these guys seem to care for ;), 'The Crane Wife' is indeed a great and progressive record. Recommended, if you haven't checked it yet.
Report this review (#174282)
Posted Wednesday, June 18, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars Feelin' good music.

I heard of this band from a non-progger friend, and it tooked me a while to ask him what was playing on the stereo. 'The Decemberists, he said.' Okay, the song is 10 minutes more, with interesting acoustic guitars.

After a while, I asked again 'Great song, wow. From who?' 'The Decemberists, John', same record (sigh)'. Not long after: 'What's playing Dave?' 'The Decemberists, man, told you half a minute ago!' 'What?! that's the same record all along? It's from the 70's right?' 'No man, just arrived. Why don't you buy it and quit buggin' me?' Okay, it was worth asking those questions and getting yelled at by an irritated Dave.

To me, the richess of this record is definitely the voice of the singer; a mix of Neil Young, Brian Molko and Neil Tennant (weird mix but really soothing). Just a great folk voice that makes you wanna sing along close to the fire, perfectly blended with the musical arrangements a la Dylan, America,The Wallflowers, The Beatles, Elliot Smith with some Pixies. The whole thing is not entirely bolted in the 60's, but it's so good not to hear another (boring) metal-opera that the clean production and commercial approach are quickly forgiven; although this album deserved a bit more lo-fi approach to me.

If you're a fan of 60's-70's acoustic guitar/hammond, you'll have a ball with this album, promise.

I'm not a fan of folk prog, but what a great catch to ease your soul; this is my choice for this summer rainy days.

Report this review (#179220)
Posted Friday, August 8, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars The fresh music of The Decemberists strikes again.

When I heard the title and opening number (Crane Wife 3), I immediately knew that another good episode of the band was going to take place. And the feeling was superbly confirmed during the epic "The Island". During over twelve minutes, the band plays such a dynamic and varied music. No time to get bored: there is hardly a moment to breathe.

It is an enchanting moment: fine acoustic guitar and sweet violin but not only. Some passages are even on the heavy side (but not too many to tell the truth). There are also some excellent melodic parts. It is one of my favourite songs from the band.

Some songs are more straight-forward, less achieved like "Yankee Bayonet" (but lyrics are great). A serious protest song against war (it refers to the dramatic US civil war). But that was the essence of folk music in the mid-sixties, right?

Some songs convey a truly positive and catchy feeling, like "O Valencia" for instance. It is another little jewel. I'm not too sure about the progressiveness of this album, but I really like it so far.

Their frenetic rhythms, their hopping style is so powerful. A song as "When the War Came" has some reminiscence of "No Quarter" (Led Zep) during some vocal parts. I don't know if it was intentional but it is amazing. The heaviest song of all.

This album turns a bit more melancholic during "Shankill Butchers" and "Summersong". Both belong more to the folkish tradition. They are not bad but I can't say that I enjoy these as much as the first six songs which don't hold any weak moments.

The second long song from the album is the title track (actually "Crane Wife 1 & 2"). The song is built crescendo and it is just another great moment of this album. When the rhythm catches up after a minute or three; it is just irresistible (but it could have been shorter).

In all, this is my favourite album from "The Decemberists" so far. It is more consistent than their good debut "Castaways And Cutouts" which dropped a bit in quality during the second half. My rating is four stars. A very good album for sure.

Report this review (#183147)
Posted Sunday, September 21, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The Decemberists.. a group I learned of during a very special time in my life. Asheville in the fall of 2006 when a wacky smartass American and a sweet precious beautiful Italian met for the first time in person and spent two weeks of absolute heaven together. During one of our regular search and destroy missions for albums I thumbed through a music magazine that had a article about a group from my hometown of Portland Oregon, The Decemberists. I had never heard of them but the article spoke of a fabulous group and album that people just had to hear. Raff and I had a chuckle over that... doesn't Classic Rock magazine say that in every issue about some group of dope smoking kids with dirty long hair, who srely have the rock and roll image nailed but whose music.. yawn.. and pfff. The magazine's description of the band though caught this jadded soul and I mentally filed this group away in my mind for future exploration.

fast forward several years... discovery by the prog-world and addition to this site's database thanks to Bob. I never forgot the group but always told myself I would get an album from them the next time I saw them. Well Raff and I finally navigated a lot of roadblocks and got our chance to have our life together. Part of our fun as a couple is continuing the tradition we sort of established in Asheville of raiding CD shops.. second hand or chain.. we don't discriminate. On a trip last month to the CD Cellar in Arlington we finally took the Decemberist plunge and somewhere in the course of the first listen, both her and I became instant fans of this group. The group has a new album coming out this month, trust me, some CD shop somewhere will have either that smartass American or beautiful Italian lady camped out waiting to get our hands on it. I highly recommend you check this group out. As any quick glance of my reviews here show, this is a kind of group that I would not normally give the time of day. It simply isn't the kind of music I normally listen to. That should give some indication of just how good it is. Another indication, most every review I have wrote has come from years of listening. This review is written more on impressions rather than 'knowing' the album inside and out. The album sort of inspires me to review it.

Like all the great classic prog albums, the journey with this album begins before you even put the album in your player. The CD sleeve is really a striking piece of work. Stark in simplicity yet completely effective in setting the mood for the album. Wonderful sketched pictures in dark colors give it a very Gothic feel. Especially effective were the drawings of the individual band members in early 20th century Edwardian clothes. Enough pratter though, what you care about is the music. What you will find on the album is some incredibly moving music. that sticks in your teeth and remains long after the album has been digested.

The album begins with a lovely number The Crane Wife 3 which is a relatively low-key musical number anchored by piano and acoustic guitar. Colin Meloy's vocal's might be a bit off-putting to prog traditionalists. He has a voice that some might immediately place as right out of an indie-alternative group. Pfff on that. His voice has wonderful range and a very strong presence and is perfect for this group's music. The Crane Wife 3 is a nice tune, nothing much to set the prog house on fire.. but ahhh.. the song segues into what hooked Raff and I completely on this album. The Island suite... a pure prog heaven of contrasting moods and musical changes. Led off by a catchy as hell instrumental opening with guitar with the organ doubling it which has your foot tapping until it suddenly drops out into an acoustic and vocal section. The piece shifts tempos and moods through Come and Lee, with the The Landlords Daughter we get to hear keyboardist Jenny Conlee take center stage on the Hammond Organ and Moog synthesizer. Great stuff indeed. The mood and pace change completely with the final section You'll Not Feel the Drowning. Acoustic primarily with Meloy's dark and depressing lyrics dominate this section. When you want to hit a musical mood of sadness of death.. what better instrument to whip out than the cello. A fabulous piece of music. The next song...Yankee Bayonet... that is why I am here writing this review tonight.. I'll be damned if I could NOT get this song out of my head today. This album was dinner music for Raff and I last night and this song... just.. pow.. right between the eyes. Played it 4 times straight and studied the lyrics in detail.. which being a fan of Italian prog.. is about as rare as me singing the praises of [%*!#]ing Camel hahah. Lyrics usually mean nothing to me. This one ..grabbed me hard. A wonderful duet between Meloy and guest singer, Laura Veirs as lovers separated by the American Civil War. A subject I have a great deal of passion for personally. A catchy upbeat melody over which they 'converse' is perfect counterpoint to talking about the dead of Manassas. Wow... blown away. Isn't that why we listen to music.. we live for those moments.

A couple of songs follow, O Valencia and The Prefect Crime #2 follow that to me don't quite reach the incredible standards of the album to that point. Decent songs but in all fairness since this is a prog site. Marginally prog.. but still. pretty damn good music. When the War came follows though and is a bit heavier and aggresive in sound that what we have heard so far. The electric guitar is more prominent here with some interesting synth work by Conlee. A real nice stylistic change-up thrown by the group. Shankill Butchers comes up next and here we go 180 degrees in another direction get a dark,haunting folksie number with intense imagery of bloody cleavers, whiskey and killing... yeah buddy... that is American Folk for you hahha. Fascinating piece of music. Very American Gothic. Summersong lightens the mood with imagery of watery graves, and dead sailors hahah. Delivered not with a catchy melody and wonderful vocal harmonies. This might not be your father's Folk-Prog of Jethro Tull hahah.. but in it's own American way.. it speaks very true to the American experience. Such beauty yet such an undertoe of violence and death. Yep. Whoever put the final tracklist for the album must have been dyslexic or some crap like that because The Crane Wife 1&2 comes up next. With the Island suite the musical bedrock of the album. The C.W. #1 has wonderfully evocative lyrics over a somber cello, sweeted by some tasteful Hammond Organ before the pace picks up and into a nice mid-tempo piece still anchored by the Hammond Organ. The C.W #2 is a perfect piece of folk-prog speaking of the marriage of the protagonist to his bride.. his Crane Wife. The band has thrown the musical kitchen sink into this piece with steel-pedal guitar, and seemingly every acoustic stringed instrument you can dream up. Love the glockenspiel in this. Very tasteful indeed. The album close with Sons & Daughters which is a hell of way to close the album. Gorgeous multi-part vocals with a real folksie sound and and feel that will have you singing along if you have a pulse. More tradtional instruments such as the banjo and dulcimer are evident in the instrumental mix along with the acordion. Excellent stuff.

Rating the album. Jeepers... now this IS a hard one to rate. As I alluded to in my opening. Pretty much all of my rankings and reviews have been given with the hindsight of years of listening and with the ability to compare the albums to past, and future works of the artist. Able to compare those with others to come up with what I would like to think of as a fairly objective rating. Seeing how Folk-Prog is not my preferred style of music and have only recently through Raff really made any attempt to listen to it. I find it hard to rate the album. Some thoughts though. Listening to this album, I can really see.. and understand that some will not be impressed by this album. Colin Meloy's vocals are not distinctively prog, he doesn't sing with an Engish accent and years of being assaulted by musically inferior groups that have vocalists similar to his style may trip-up the musically quick to judge. However within this album is some rather interesting and touching progressive folk music. I highly recommend this album to those who are open-minded to their prog. If you don't equate great music with prog.. oh hell.. get this album. Now. However if you are more ..conservative in your prog tastes, you will find large sections of it here, but after such a glowing review as I have give, you probably will be disappointed. For the site.. 4 stars. Since I first wrote the review I have explored the group further and have found albums I enjoyed as much, but for this site this album of their first 4 studio albums is the album that might connect most with the prog fan. For myself ..personally.. 5 stars... this is a keeper. As I said in a post recently.. an album WELL on it's way to being burned into my musical psyche. I must add though... I love prog.. but I'm not a prog-head. I just love great music.. and I love this album and couldn't have cared less if one wants to call them prog or not.

Michael (aka Micky)

Report this review (#205540)
Posted Thursday, March 5, 2009 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
4 stars 'The Crane Wife' - The Decemberists (7/10)

My discovery of this album was a very unlikely one at that. A good friend of mine (also an avid music listener) lent me this album, however unsure of whether I would like it or not. Being that she is a fan of indie/alternative music and not prog, I was certainly surprised to find a twelve minute suite on here, and strong influences of classic prog. The first song (while still thinking it was another indie album) I actually really liked, despite the fact that the entire indie genre has never really done it for me, with the exception of a few crossovers with the realm of post-rock.

Anyways, on topic of the music, Colin Meloy has a voice that sounds like it was pulled straight out of the British Isles, despite the band's US origin. Theres a very strong vocal resonance with him, and a unique, distinctive tone. He is the heart and soul of the band, and his voice is one of the defining factors about the band

'The Crane Wife' revolves around two song cycles, the first being the eponymous title track (which is a suite divided into three parts over two tracks) and 'The Island,' an epic based on 'The Tempest' by Shakespeare and the reason I first had a prog notion about the band's direction.

While the music is right to be considered 'prog folk,' a lot of the songs still use warm electric guitar sounds, and even parts with some fair overdrive. I recollect reading a review calling 'The Crane Wife' the 'best Jethro Tull album since 'Heavy Horses.' While that's obviously meant all in good fun, the similarity and influence to that band is incredibly strong, and anyone even vaguely familiar with the two groups should recognize at least some correlation between the two. It doesn't necessarily hurt the band's sense of creativity (after all, every band in history has been influenced or inspired by something) but it should give anyone who isn't already experienced with the music of The Decemberists.

At first few listens to the album, I really loved it. While after growing greatly familiar with the album and all the musical twists and turns it has to offer, the lasting appeal isn't quite as good as the initial effect (which is great) but it's still a very good album that's alright to listen to once in a while. The initial effect is reason enough to purchase this album on it's own however; I found myself captivated by it for the first few weeks, and don't regret listening to it, despite the fact it's lost it's mind blowing quality. 'The Crane Wife' is recommended for fans of Prog Folk, Indie music, and of course; Jethro Tull!

Report this review (#207592)
Posted Tuesday, March 17, 2009 | Review Permalink
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
4 stars While we are waiting to get The Decemberists' new album in the mail, I thought it would be a good idea for me to write a companion review to the one my husband wrote for this album some time ago. We discovered the band through The Crane Wife, and the impression it left on both of us was strong enough to make us want to acquire their whole output. As a lover (and occasional scholar) of folk music and traditions, the notion of an American band who delved deep into the vast musical and cultural heritage of both the Old and the New World was enough to intrigue me, and convince me to take the plunge when, about one month ago, I saw The Crane Wife in a secondhand CD store.

In spite of being all too often lumped together with the whole, somewhat nebulous 'indie' scene (as if not being signed to a major recording label could really be termed as a musical subgenre), The Decemberists offer a unique package to those who approach them. Intellectual and sophisticated in the way West Coasters often are, their lyrical themes a veritable feast for anyone with an interest in history, literature and deeply moving, offbeat stories of ordinary people, they may not immediately strike the listener as conventionally 'prog' in a musical sense - this being particularly true of their first two albums. However, starting with their EP The Tain the band have moved more and more into Prog-Folk territory, producing work that has often drawn comparisons to the likes of Jethro Tull.

The Crane Wife sets them squarely in that territory, with the presence of not one, but two full-fledged, multi-part epics (The Island and the title-track), and an even richer, multi-layered instrumentation than on its predecessor, the excellent Picaresque. The liner notes list an array of instruments that is nothing short of impressive, provided both by the band members and by guest musicians: not only strings, which add depth to the band's sound, but also such mainstays of traditional folk music as the accordion, the bouzouki, and the hurdy gurdy. Colin Meloy's melancholy, storyteller's voice may be the single factor that anchors The Decemberists' music to the whole indie/alternative scene (though here he sounds much less like REM's Michael Stipe than he does on Picaresque) - however, this is also true of other singers of bands whose relation to prog has long since been accepted (Muse and Radiohead spring to mind). In my view, the myth that a prog vocalist worth his/her salt has to sound theatrical, or even plain overwrought, should be debunked at all costs - though it is also true that certain bands are not associated with prog by far too many listeners just because the vocals 'don't sound prog'.

The way the band have chosen to present the album's titular epic adds interest value to an already fascinating effort. The source for "The Crane Wife" is an old Japanese folktale based on the well-known motif of the bird-bride, and of how a broken promise leads to her leaving her husband forever. Like so much contemporary literature, the story is told using the narrative device of prolepsis (or 'flashforward'), which in this case hints at its tragic ending without giving away too much; while the bulk of the tale is told in Parts 1 and 2, strategically placed towards the end of the album. Parts 1 and 3 are deceptively upbeat from a musical point of view (as is often the case with the band's output), while the deep sense of loss intrinsic to the tale is brought to bear in the plaintive, rarefied Part 2, whose almost unbearably sad chorus seems to foreshadow the inevitable conclusion.

The Island, the disc's undisputed highlight, and also its most progressive number, is inspired by one of the most fascinating works of literature ever, Shakespeare's last play, "The Tempest", whose main action takes place on a mysterious island haunted by magic. Introduced by a magnificent instrumental section, it is divided in three sharply characterised parts, rich with lavish arrangements (check Jenny Conlee's superb Hammond organ work if you, like me, are fans of the instrument). The lyrics to the mournful, low-key "You'll Not Feel the Drowning" (enhanced by the accompaniment of a cello), the final part of the suite, are almost a companion piece to T.S. Eliot's own take on "The Tempest", "Death by Water". The epic finds its epilogue in an apparently unrelated song, the oddly infectious "Yankee Bayonet", in which Meloy's vocals find a perfect foil in those of Seattle-based singer-songwriter Laura Veirs. The song, bright and melodic in spite of its subject matter, is a duet between a soldier killed in the American Civil War and his sweetheart.

In spite of it overall high quality, "The Crane Wife" has its weak moments, namely the two consecutive songs "O Valencia!" and "The Perfect Crime #2", both pleasant though rather nondescript indie pop offerings conceived (particularly the first) to appeal to a wider audience. Conversely, the guitar-driven "When the War Came" almost strays into heavy rock territory, with its steady, plodding beat and apocalyptic lyrics (as well as the brilliantly wacky use of scientific terms for potatoes and sunflowers). This dark mood is kept up by a slow, acoustic number, "Shankhill Butchers", which references a particularly bloody episode of Northern Irish history with plenty of disturbing imagery; while the deceptively cheerful "Summersong" reprises the 'dead sailor' theme of "The Island". After the tour-de-force that is "The Crane Wife Pt. 1 & 2", the rousing, anthemic "Sons and Daughters", a call-to-arms promoting peace and reconstruction at the end of a war, closes the album on a very positive note, though somewhat at odds with its overall mood.

It should be obvious by now that The Decemberists' take on prog rock as shown by this album is definitely not what purists can expect - hence the allegations of them being just an indie band with intellectual pretensions. Yes, some of their songs are poppy and catchy, even radio-friendly (they got signed by Capitol for this album after all), but this is also true of a myriad other bands whose 'pure prog' status is hardly ever questioned. To the discerning listener, "The Crane Wife" offers outstanding musicianship, extremely well-crafted lyrics, and a wide range of intriguing subject matter underpinned by music that is in turns intensely sad and exhilaratingly uplifting. Highly recommended to anyone open-minded enough to look beyond any labels or comparisons. A very solid four-star rating from this reviewer.

Report this review (#208498)
Posted Tuesday, March 24, 2009 | Review Permalink
Eclectic Prog Team
5 stars From the moment I first played this album, I knew I was in for a treat. Every song on this album is memorable, enjoyable, and expertly performed, and what it may arguably lack in progressiveness is more than made up for with smart songwriting and unforgettable lyrics. I appreciate the heavy use of the acoustic guitar, and the Celtic feel of the album drew me in at the very first go. The story is an Oriental parable about greed, in which a poor man finds a wounded crane at his doorstep and nurses it back to health. It flies away. Some time later, a mysterious woman appears at his door, and they get married. In poverty, the woman says she will make cloths and sell them, so long as the man does not intrude upon her at anytime. In his greed, the man keeps his wife in a cold room, while she works. Eventually, his curiosity overtakes him, and he peers in. In that cold room is a bleeding crane, plucking its own feathers to make the desired cloths. Upon seeing the man, the crane wife flies away, never to be seen again. I cannot find any real fault with the album.

"The Crane Wife 3" Such a simple three-chord song is actually a quite refreshing way to begin an album so full of intricacies, beautiful words, and unforgettable melodies.

"The Island" The jaunty introduction to the album's longest and most progressive track sounds a great bit like mid-1970's Pink Floyd ("Have a Cigar" actually comes to mind). All three parts are distinct, but flow together very well, and that middle section, "The Landlord's Daughter," just blows me away every time, with its rich tapestry of organ and acoustic guitar. The last part is a melancholic acoustic bit laden with strings and piano.

"Yankee Bayonet (I Will be Home Them)" Another lovely song, and one of my favorites, predominantly on the twelve-string guitar, has light vocals of both male and female. It tells of a man and woman in love separated by the battles of the Civil War.

"O Valencia!" Another pop-rock track, this song is has a great melody and follows a strong chord progression.

"The Perfect Crime #2" Disco-folk, if such a thing existed, would sound a lot like this. It is a funky little pop sound with a satisfying bass groove and gritty electric guitars.

"When the War Came" A heavy repetitive guitar riff creates a solid structure for the amazing vocal melody to sit upon. It's menacing and beautiful all at once, with a heavy, building ending that repeats the first line over and over.

"Shankill Butchers" This dark little ditty sounds like a cautionary tale and reminds me very much of The Tiger Lillies's takes on Heinrich Hoffmann's collection entitled Shockheaded Peter.

"Summersong" A plain song with accordion, has a fine melody and is another fine number, even if unadorned compositionally. This is another piece that would appeal to more pop-rock lovers, perhaps fans of earlier Lifehouse (which includes me).

"The Crane Wife 1 & 2" This second lengthy track is also very simple in terms of structure, but something about the melody makes me think of when I was younger (I do not know why, but I get nostalgic every time- perhaps it is my love of the Celtic rock band Seven Nations). It tells the story in the most detail, and is so beautiful.

"Sons & Daughters" One last two-chord upbeat song full of simple counterpoint vocals and accordion completes the album. That final line resonates with my heart: "Hear all the bombs fade away."

Report this review (#213437)
Posted Saturday, May 2, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Look, you know when you listen to a THE DECEMBERISTS album things are not going to turn out well for the subjects of the songs. Men will be betrayed by their friends and their country, women will be abused and murdered, wars and rumours of wars will abound, and even the supernatural is not safe, all set to the sounds of sophisticated folk/indie rock. There'll be shooting, stabbing, kidnappings, graves and laments, with each vignette set in some historical fantasy world equally as brutal as our own.

Well, 'The Crane Wife' has all this. Are you surprised? But what will surprise you is the depth and maturity of the music. This is light-years ahead of their previous work. From the danceable AOR of 'The Perfect Crime #2' - don't overexpose yourself to this track, the chorus will get on your nerves - to the progressive epics of 'The Island' and the three title tracks, there simply isn't a weak moment. With this album THE DECEMBERISTS have crossed a boundary. They are no longer indie-folk, they are squarely prog rock artists. And, to my intense delight, COLIN MELOY finally employs his band to do more than provide him backing. This is music to savour even if you don't quite 'get' the lyrics.

But - oh joy! - 'getting' the lyrics adds so much to the music. Yes, you can have excellent instrumental prog - and, as YES demonstrated, lyrics don't have to mean anything to add to the music. But when they tell stories like these, as intense as these, the musical enhancement is compelling.

Let's start with the epics. 'The Island: Come and See/The Landlord's Daughter/You'll not Feel the Drowning' is a three-parter begins with a splendid melody and doesn't relent. At times displaying a hard edge, it is a sad tale of the abduction and death of a maiden, told from the point of view of the perpetrator. MELOY often does this, and it doesn't get any less disturbing. 'The Crane Wife' also comes in three parts. Of course, MELOY being MELOY, part 3, the story's conclusion, comes first, just to let you know there'll be no happy ending. Parts 1 and 2 are combined, a slow burner that builds the tension right to the end.

My copy has a few bonus tracks including a third long track, a version of 'The Perfect Crime' that segues into an extended jammy number called - this is THE DECEMBERISTS, remember - 'The Day I Knew You'd Not Come Back.' This track lays down a steady beat over which the musicians improvise, and JENNY CONLEE gets to show off her Hammond.

The shorter tracks are all superb. From the sparse guitar and voice of the poignant and menacing 'Shankhill Butchers' to the gentle, sophisticated pop of 'Summersong' and 'O Valencia', THE DECEMBERISTS never miss a beat. Nothing sounding remotely like filler, the songs' arrangements sufficiently distinct to give each song its own character. And MELOY has moderated his nasal twang a little.

Melodic with a twist, 'The Crane Wife' is a welcome addition to the progressive rock fold. If you like your music clever, thought-provoking and a little morose, with more than a helping of progressive sound, this album is for you. Utterly compelling.

Report this review (#218638)
Posted Thursday, May 28, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars The Crane Wife essentially consists of three parts: the trio of The Crane Wife Songs, the trio of The Island songs, and the rest.

The rest consists of a number of individual songs that do not seem to be related in any particular manner, unless we look at them as embodying some sort of history of rock, for many of them seem to have the sound of a particular band or period as a basis. For example, The Perfect Crime has a bit of a Talking Heads/New Wave vibe about it; similarly When the War Came bears a distinct resemblance to Physical Graffiti-era Led Zeppelin; and Shankill Butchers would fit right in on a Kinks album, circa 1970. The real gem of this group of songs is Summersong, with its jaunty (did I just use that word?) accordion-driven melody line, its Beatle-esque backing vocals, and its incomparable lyrics, which provide a perfect account of one last summer's day at the shore.

I'm still trying to understand why The Crane Wife trio of songs appears in disjointed order on the album; however, the story is not diminished because of this. I'm not aware of the source story, but I'd wager heavily, maybe even bet the rent, that it goes something like this: guy finds wounded crane, heals said crane, falls in love with said crane, keeps her in captivity, and said crane being a wild thing, dies. Guy is remorseful. Typical Meloy outcome, and for those of us who've been in a few relationships over the years, typical outcome, minus the death. Those free spirits -- once captured -- just fly away and one never sees them again. "And I will hang my head low..."

The first of the trio starts pleasantly enough, a little folksy number, The Crane Wife 3. "Boughs unbowed," sings Colin. Nice little rhyme, maybe a little pretentious, maybe a little precious, but effective and affective to the heart. Typical Meloy.

The Crane Wife 1 begins with an engaging acoustic guitar riff and builds from that point. A few strings, a little Hammond. "It was a white crane." Now we add some drums, a little bass. The song builds steadily as the wounded crane is discovered, until it molts into a full- blown romp. There's not really anything particularly musically challenging here; emotionally, the music ramps up with the story, that little Hammond becomes a swirl of arpeggios, we get a few (muted) electric guitar power chords, and bass and drums are operating in full rock mode. As the song ends, major becomes minor, accents become disjointed.

The Crane Wife 2 provides another acoustic take on the first track, albeit with a bit of that damned pedal steel to tug at the heartstrings, and yes it's here we learn of that crane's true fate: "there is blood in the thread." The song becomes almost anthemic as Meloy repeats "heart". Which is what this album is all about.

The Island. At the outset, the song is a mid-tempo rocker, a bit noisy with great huffing and keening noises, and I have no idea what those noises are, which of course intrigues my ears all the further. Following a brief acoustic respite, the beat becomes incessant and driving. Come and See. Last musician I heard say that was Arthur Brown. The guitars turn electric and ring or peal in a rumbling landscape. Hammond organ washes color the atmosphere, before transitioning to a batch of arpeggios, which mark the onset of The Landlord's Daughter, a romping piece of music which is nothing less than the indie bastard offspring of progressive rock as it was once practiced and celebrated, back in the early 70's. Frankly, I did not know any contemporary band was capable of making this type of music, in this age. Hats off to the Decemberists. If you ever wonder what happened to ELP and Tull, look nor listen no further. It's all here, in spades, just in these few minutes. Following another flurry of dual Hammond and guitar melodic lines, we are back to a more acoustic soundscape of You'll Not Feel The Drowning, with its string quartet, its end-of-time lyrics.

The album ends with Sons & Daughters, an anthem of sorts, upbeat musically, Utopian lyrically, which I am unable to decide to take as is or ironically.

When this band is hitting on all cylinders, which occurs frequently on this album, I say you'll not hear better. And as you are swallowed by a wave, you'll not even feel the drowning. Guaranteed.

Report this review (#226925)
Posted Wednesday, July 15, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars I liked The Decemberists the very first time I heard them. The part that appeals to me the most are the vocals and how the songs are mainly acoustic-guitar driven. Also, this is a band that shows prog music doesn't have to be complicated music. The opening song is simple but great in its simplicity, I think. The singer for this group might actually be my second favorite singer with work on this website. I like the opening the closing sections of "The Island," but I don't care for the middle section quite as much, though it's still good. I also love the female's vocals on "Yankee Bayonet," as I think she has a unique voice. The songs are diverse in sound, and yet anyone can know this is The Decemberists because of the singer's distinct voice. A lot of bands sound stupid singing "oos" and "ahs" and "la-de-das," but somehow this band sounds great singing such sounds. Each song sounds great, with interesting lyrics that actually made me want to ask someone about them (although I think the Asian story is kind of weird). Overall, this album has many memorably parts, and I fully recommend it to pretty much anyone.
Report this review (#233544)
Posted Friday, August 21, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "The Crane Wife" is the 4th full-length studio album by progressive folk rock act The Decemberists. The album was released through Capitol/Rough Trade in October 2006.

The music on the album is for the most part vers/chorus structured folk rock songs with great vocals and vocal harmonies, Hammond organ, pump organ, Wurlitzer, Moog, acoustic and electric guitars, drums, percussion, cello, dulcimer, banjo, bouzouki, bass and upright bass, glockenspiel and accordion. A really interesting blend of instruments that gives the album a very warm sound. As mentioned most songs are pretty ordinary in structure but there are two songs that stand out. It´s the 12:26 minute long "The Island" and the 11:19 minute long "The Crane Wife 1 & 2". The first is fantastic and by far the most progressive and interesting song on the album while the latter is excellent too but not as progressive. The rest of the songs excel in strong melodies and great atmosphere but they are more simple and ordinary in nature compared to the two longer tracks on the album. All tracks are very well written, well performed and well produced and a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is well deserved.

Report this review (#248078)
Posted Wednesday, November 4, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars I first discovered The Decemberists with the help of my friend. He actually got me into progressive rock in the first place by showing me "Relayer" by Yes, and although he has since moved on to broaden his musical horizons, I made it my quest to obtain all of the great prog of the past, with relatively few detours. Since we no longer had identical musical tastes, when my friend gave me "The Crane Wife," i expected to forget it very quickly, but I was delightfully surprised at how great this album is.

The album begins with "The Crane Wife 3," the vague yet beautiful conclusion to the rest of the Crane Wife story told later in the album. Instantly upon listening to this song, you'll know your in for a treat.

Next is the multi-part suite "The Island," which instantly appealed to me. After a layered introduction built on an interesting repeated riff, the first section begins. "Come and See" is a nice, occasionally rocking song, and as the title suggests, it beckons you to keep listening. The next section, "The Landlords Daughter," is an energetic piece with excellent organ work and a great Moog solo to boot. Building to an emotional climax, it's the most beautiful song about abduction and rape you'll ever hear! The contrast of the ending piece "You'll Not Feel the Drowning," a beautiful acoustic track with an orchestrated part near the end, leaves you stunned, and after it's all over you'll want to listen to it 100 times more. My favorite track on the album.

Next are a series of shorter songs. "Yankee Bayonet" lets the band's Indie side shine through, and although it's a pleasant song is fairly forgettable. "O Valencia!" is very radio-friendly, but it's still an excellent track with a great story of gang rivalry and love. "The Perfect Crime #2" would've been excellent, but it feels like it drags on forever (and the repetition of the word "Perfect" 1000 times is quite cheesy). "When the War Came" is another rocker and also drags a little long, but is much more interesting that the previous track. "Shankill Butchers" is a beautiful, somber acoustic piece - and very folky - and is one of the album's highlights in my opinion. "Summersong" is best for showcasing how the band can combine folk and indie styles with excellent results.

Finally, we come to "The Crane Wife 1 & 2," the beginning and middle to the story that ended in the first track. The other reviewers already covered the story of this one, so there's no need to be redundant. Colin Meloy is both an excellent songwriter and storyteller, and his abilities really show on this track and the album in general. The album ends with the pleasant "Sons and Daughters," an peppy round that contrasts the sad story of "The Crane Wife."

Overall, this album should please any fan of progressive rock looking to prove that there is still hope for modern music. This, along with their next album "The Hazards of Love" is a masterpiece for the Decemberists. However, in the grand scheme of all things progressive, this album is best suited for a 4-Star rating. But i still recommend this for all prog fans.

Report this review (#262163)
Posted Saturday, January 23, 2010 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Prog Specialist
3 stars As I wrote in my latest review, THE DECEMBERISTS never really impressed me, always saw them as an Alternative/Folk band with some remote relation with Progressive Rock, but not enough to be in a full Prog genre, maybe Prog Related if not too much, but even when I disagree, also respect the decision of the team in charge of Prog Folk.

Then time passed and gave "Picaresque " a new listen and found some interesting moments, but still not enough to grant them the inclusion to PA, so believing I chose the wrong album, bought "The Crane Wife" which is praised as their magnum opus, and yes, the album is superior, but not remotely Prog.

At least the sound is more original, yes, still "Colin Meloy" tries to be the new "Michael Stipe", but they are no longer the REM wannabe that I found in Picaresque. The music is far more elaborate than in their previous release, but despite the excellent Hammond explosions they never leave the Alternative/Folk territory.

After the incredibly boring and extremely predictable "The Crane Wife" comes the best moment of the album with the 12 minutes multi-part epic "The Island". After listening four albums by this band, it's the first time I find a reason to be exited, the album no longer sounds as a "Meloy" solo project but as a solid and coherent band with a strong personality.

If the were to be added to PA this is the track that could justify an inclusion in Prog Related, because the structure is extremely elaborate and the ideas are close enough to the spirit of Progressive Rock, with amazing changes and a killer organ, excellent song.

But "The Island" is only a mirage, as soon as the song ends, they return to their predictable and depressing Alternative sound with little interest for me, well, probably "Summersong" has it's moments, but not enough for me to consider "The Crane Wife" the masterpiece others see, but every person has it's taste.

Even when I believe "The Crane Wife" is a one song album (Maybe two if we count "Summersong"), "The Island" is so good that grants three stars for the album, if it wasn't for the epic, maybe I would have gone as low as one star, because most of the rest absolutely boring.

For fans of alternative music.

Report this review (#276888)
Posted Thursday, April 8, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars I enjoy most of this album immensely. The opener "Crane Wife" matches it's longer counterpart later in the mix and both are fabulous pieces. The crown jewel of the release is next: The 3-part "The Island" which many have praised before so I will just put in that it is awesome! These 3 songs make the album worth the money without any other tracks mentioned. The next piece, "Yankee Bayonet" is a male/female interplay ballad of the civil war and is excellently done, very Steeleye Span-like. Most of the rest of this album is more straight forward folk-rock that doesn't interest me as much . Overall, if I judged this album just on it's parts, it would receive a solid 3 stars, but with the grand bits taken as greater-than-the-sum of their parts, this jacks the rating to a 4. I have not heard more than a few other songs by this band (mostly) on this site, but I plan to look deeper into their catalogue. The Hazards of Love looks promising... 4 stars
Report this review (#279965)
Posted Friday, April 30, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars I got acquainted with the Decemberists through THE HAZARDS OF LOVE and worked backwards starting here. THE HAZARDS OF LOVE is such a brilliant recording just because of how the Decemberists compacted their sound into one unique brand. THE CRANE WIFE is the same group at their most uncertain.

Are they an indie band? ''When the War Came'' and ''The Perfect Crime No.2'' certainly make strong cases. Both songs are the heaviest I've ever heard the Decemberists, and both are very strong highlights even if ''Perfect Crime'' has a sucky chorus.

Are they a folk band? There are four instances were this happens. The opener isn't too bad and the closing ''Sons and Daughters'' is easily my favourite track of the album; it has this pompous pump to it that makes for a great capper. Unfortunately, ''Shankill Butchers'' and ''Summersong'' are uneventful and completely skippable.

Are they a hybrid indie-folk band? That's here in ''Yankee Bayonet'' and ''O Valencia!''. Both songs are pretty twee and upbeat, but they bring out the weaknesses in all lead vocalists involved.

Are they a prog rock band? They make valiant attempts in the two longer pieces. The first ''Crane Wife'' part is the very best of the three, and the opening theme of ''The Island'' is the finest instrumental performance of the album. However, both pieces go dry halfway through. Meloy never need to sing falsetto on ''The Landlord's Daughter''.

THE CRANE WIFE is too much of a hodgepodge to really be an essential, but there are a few pearls here if you look hard enough.

Report this review (#300368)
Posted Friday, September 24, 2010 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
4 stars An elegant, refined, and wholly enjoyable , Crane Wife takes the listener on a folksy journey filled with memorable melodies and soulful ambience.

Blending styles, tones, instrumentation, and dynamics into smoothly engaging compositions, the Decemberists have created a deep palette of sounds for us to enjoy. The combination of acoustic strumming, folk instruments (like the accordian, violin, etc), and the occasional electric guitar power chord is immensely satisfying, immediately grabbing the listener. A great example is the extended track, "The Island", which goes from heavy, sleezy blues to a beautiful acoustic bridge, changing again to good old fashioned organ-led prog, all with a rich, evocative atmosphere. Although categorically a folk album, there are a lot of heavy moments hidden here-- slow tempo, but still quite dark and powerfully played.

From this epic track we're given a folksy and playful duet with "Yankee Bayonet", and then two more upbeat, chipper, almost trip-pop style songs with a great feel. In between is the heavy, atmospheric "When the War Came" and the wonderfully simple and twisted "Shankill Butchers"-- great. "The album comes to a wonderful, emotive close with the sweeping "The Crane Wife 1 & 2" and "Sons and Daughters". The compositions are deceptively simple, but possess a lot of depth to discover. Narry a moment which disengaged me.

A big part of The Crane Wife's success comes from Meloy's oustanding vocals and lyrics. His singing voice is actually quite plain, but possess a sort of wholesome, though subtely tragic tone; great inflection and nuance to his deliveries. His lyrics are even better, again simple, though filled with creative language and wrapped up in poetic imagery. First rate.

Songwriting: 4 Instrumental Performances: 4 Lyrics/Vocals: 4 Style/Emotion/Replay: 5

Report this review (#301709)
Posted Saturday, October 2, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars I bought this one on the back of Hazards of Love, one of the finest LP's I have purchased in recent months. I am very glad that I did, for whilst I do not think that it cries out "classic" and "essential" in the same manner as its successor, this is still a mighty fine piece of contemporary American folk prog, and in the context of what followed, a clear and unmistakable marker as to the heights to which the band were aspiring.

The story of the album itself is based upon an old Japanese folk tale, and if you research band leader Colin Meloy's interviews on the subject, you will find a fascinating read.

This album is a pure folk fan's joy. That American folk is infused with prog sensibilities, and, combined, it creates a marvellous story, sound scape, and some quite exceptional playing from a group of very talented musicians. For no better example of how to create an acoustic, modern folk pastiche, look no further than the epic track The Island.

Then, if you prefer a jauntier ride, with magnificent female vocals mixed with the main Meloy story, listen to what follows, Yankee Bayonet.

At the heart of everything, though, as with Hazards Of Love, is the spellbinding storytelling. I don't think that Colin Meloy would ever win any major awards for his vocals. However, saying that, his style and ability to tell his stories are nothing less than ideally suited to the works he has written and performed.

I awarded Hazards Of Love the full 5 stars. This is not as essential in the terms of how we rate albums on this site. It is, however, nothing less than an excellent addition to any prog rock collection, and fully deserves a very strong 4 star rating.

Report this review (#308907)
Posted Monday, November 8, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars So maybe this isn't quite the consept album that The Hazardsof Love would be and maybe the Decemberists arn't the most progressive band on earth but for me The Crane Wife is a perfect album. The Crane Wife does what few albums can balancing the best of both classic prog and modern indie pop. Now obviously the highlight of this album is the prog epic The Island which blends folky strumming hummable melodys and fun little indie rythms with overblown proggy synthesizers and art rock stylings. This is the most accessable epic I have ever had the pleasure to listen to! Other highlights include the wonderfully poppy O Valencia and the folksy title track played in three parts (out of order) both tracks fall more on the indie side than the prog side of the spectrum but the way they are presented gives them a distinctly 70s art rock vibe.

If you are a prog fan with an interest in indie or visa versa this is the album for you. Combining fun with inteligence this could be the crossover album of its generation. The Decemberists, much like Pink Floyd create some of the best prog by not giving over to being prog in its fullest sence.

Five stars for a unique album by a unique band that is full of emotion and beauty.

Report this review (#312050)
Posted Wednesday, November 10, 2010 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
3 stars The Decemberists "The Crane Wife" is certainly a grower with infectious melodies and accomplished musicianship. At first listen it felt a bit too commercial and only 3 tracks stood out for me. However, on subsequent listens the melodies grew on me and I really liked the whole album. At times it gets way too repetitive, repeating phrases or titles of songs over and over, and choruses are repeated over the top until they are drilled into your brain. A prime offender is The Perfect Crime #2, which over uses the word 'Perfect' to ad nausea. However, there are some amazing tracks here with progressive musicianship.

The best track is undoubtedly The Island, with an innovative structure and featuring thunderous Hammond in the instrumental section. The time sigs interchange with specific mood swings, and the whole piece flows lucidly with organic musicianship and arrangement. This is the one track to get hold of to hear them at their best. The female and male trade off in Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then) is a nice treat and quite emotional in places.

A lot of the thematic material centres on bleak themes, the booklet demonstrates this in particular, but the music is given an uplifting treatment overall, particularly due to the tempo and the pleasant folky acoustic passages. The concept is heavy and open to interpretation though the Crane Wife is definitely the focus; a crane that symbolises the greed of a husband, and his wife in fact produces her husband's fortune by spinning her own feathers into magnificent clothes that he sells in order to finance his extravagant lifestyle. The ending is sad depicting the wife flying off to escape her husband's demands and she will never come back.

The Crane Wife part 1 and 2 has a very uplifting beat and melody despite the melancholy themes. The final track, Sons and Daughters, is another highlight where the phrase, "hear all the bombs fade away", is repeated as the piece builds to a crescendo. The finale works well and sums up the captivating journey. This is not the type of music I regularly turn to, but as a good example of folk prog I can recommend this album.

Report this review (#394303)
Posted Saturday, February 5, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars after disappointing "the king is dead" i think this is a time to review a album that gives us a very proggy hope... the crane wife is a concept album that based on a famous traditional japanese story revolves around...well...a crane wife!!! but forget the story what is matter here is what decemberists are capable of anyone who listen the earlier albums of the band can see their admiration towards folks 70's english prog. acts. and while giving us impressive tien ep they never fully show their proggy side on a full lp until this one... the album opens with "the crane wife 3" a wonderful showcase of what decemberists being doing for past four years. but the real suprise come after this one a majestic 12 minute tour de force "the island" wich gives us all the pivotal elements of british prog.,indie sensibilities and folkish leanings. the song starts off in a the crane wife vein but near the middle takes a rough turn and jenny conlee's organ attack suddenly hits us while our guards down and the song concludes with heart breaking all acoustic you'll not feel the drowning... with yankee bayonet we go back to the classic indie folk stylings and than o valencia! cames as another example of that kind of approach and succeeds in every way fast and entertaining tune welcomes you and with that you are connected to "the perfect crime 2" a song a bit more jazzier feeling with groovy guitars and steady bass-line an impressive piece of music. after that we hear "when the war came" wich i think closer to this new kind of guitar rock with repeating hard guitar riff and simple rhythm section executed very fine and enjoyable enough after this hard riffed piece we hear shankill butchers another classic decemberists with accordion one of the weaker songs in the album i think. after the "slow as a death" shankill butchers the summersong opens with joyful sound and wonderfully used accordion this is probably the best folkish number on the album worksat every level music, vocal... everything. after the summersong comes the second epic track the crane wife 1,2 and again(like island) gives us that feeling that we longed for long year the song opens with meloy's voice and classic guitar and slowly builds up with organ and cello and than breaks loose while meloy shouting "my crane wife" again jenny conlee's organ work is spectacular and adds a fresh air to the lineer sounding music... the second part of the song is more acoustic for a while meloy goes solo with his classic guitar but towards the end song finds more insturments and have a joyful but sad tone and this connect us to sons and daughters a hopeful song with accordions and classic guitar slowly builds up with multipile vocals and growing tempo slowly fading away with all the bombs... so the crane wife is an important work for decemberists and for a major record company debut a bold one too... in 2000's music market it is hard to play big with 12 munite epic songs and decemberists tries that and deserves credit even just for that a solid listen for almost any proghead and deserves 4 stars...
Report this review (#421205)
Posted Wednesday, March 23, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is one of those albums that I always think of as a perfect album but then when I listen to it I remember that there are parts I really am not that fond of. In other words, the high points are so unbelievably high that they tend to block out the rest and be all that sticks in my head. Unfortunately, these high points cover up some rather mediocre moments that prevent the album from being a 100% masterpiece.

The album gets off to a stellar start. "The Crane Wife 3," though extremely simple and repetitive, is very catchy and is one of my favorites of the entire Decemberists catalog. Likewise with "The Island," a proggy masterpiece that is, in my opinion, the best Decemberists song ever written. It's powerful, lyrically brilliant, and extraordinarily well composed.

The next three tracks are fun, catchy songs, but they make you remember that the Decemberists are, at heart, an extremely smart indie-folk band. They're enjoyable to listen to, but nothing extraordinary and certainly a let-down after "The Island." "When the War Came" and "The Shankill Butchers" are a bit more interesting, and certainly darker, but much in the same vein. Likewise for "Summersong," which is very catchy and features some classic Colin Meloy lyrics.

This brings us to the second epic of the disk, the 11 minute "Crane Wife 1 &2." This is not quite as good as "The Island," but it's a comfortably close second. It's a little calmer and more melodic, too.

The album finishes with "Sons and Daughters," which, again, is very fun to listen to, but is nowhere close to prog.

Overall, the prog here is absolutely phenomenal, and the pop here is still loads better than most pop out there. A great album, just not a "masterpiece of progressive rock music."


Report this review (#455439)
Posted Tuesday, May 31, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars An enchanting album.

I was first exposed to The Decemberists through their latest effort The King Is Dead. I really only liked a few tracks on that album, and I really enjoyed the vocals of Colin Meloy. Unaware of their more acclaimed earlier works such as The Crane Wife, I more or less just dismissed the rest of their discography and listened to the few songs on The King Is Dead.

Not too long ago, however, I was reintroduced to the band by a friend of mine, who gave me The Crane Wife. This album possesses some great tracks such as The Island and Yankee Bayonet that are not only well-written but also very well performed. I've come to really enjoy the music on here.

While most of the songs on here are fantastic, there are a few that I find myself skipping occasionally, and I feel like giving a classic rating to this would be perhaps a bit too lenient. Nonetheless, this is certainly something that should not be overlooked; it is very enjoyable.

Report this review (#1286933)
Posted Thursday, October 2, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars The Decemberists' first album for a major label raised their game (and their profile) to a higher level, for better and, at the same time, for worse. The longer compositions were bolder and more ambitious than ever, including "The Island" suite and the likewise three-part title track, the latter oddly but appropriately re-sequenced so that the album actually opens with Part Three...musically, it just worked better that way.

Meanwhile the shorter songs, designed to earn the band as much radio air time as possible, were even more obviously commercial. But at least they were all grouped together in the middle of the album, from the catchy "Yankee Bayonet" through the Dire Straits sound-alike single "The Perfect Crime #2". Part One of the latter song was, perversely, not included on the album, although it deserves to be heard: an atypically macho rocker with a long, bluesy mid-section, in total lasting more than fifteen minutes, further evidence of singer/writer Colin Meloy's expanding musical horizons.

Elsewhere on the album Meloy's quaint, Anglophilic narratives were likewise extended to new territories: Leningrad in 1942 ("When the War Came"); Shakespeare's Tempest (vaguely referenced in "The Island"); and the Japanese folk tale of the title song. And yet the flavor throughout, as illustrated in the CD booklet designed by longtime Decemberist collaborator Carson Ellis, is closer to post-Civil War America. The lovely acoustic ballad "Shankill Butchers" (an album highlight) may have been inspired by an actual mob of (literal) cutthroats in 1970's Ireland, but the antique melody recalls something Bill Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis, in the film "Gangs of New York") might have sung while strolling the mean streets of 1860's Manhattan.

In retrospect it's a transitional effort, poised on an unsteady fulcrum between eccentricity and complacence, with the many bright spots far outshining the weaker moments. The band was now a bona fide success story, but in which direction would Meloy turn next? Back to Victorian London, or toward modern pop radio purgatory? Or, just maybe, to somewhere altogether different and unexpected..? You only have to sneak a peek at the ProgArchives ratings to learn the answer...

Report this review (#1370992)
Posted Saturday, February 21, 2015 | Review Permalink

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