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The Decemberists

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The Decemberists 5 Songs album cover
2.27 | 19 ratings | 7 reviews | 11% 5 stars

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Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, released in 2001

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Oceanside (3:29)
2. Shiny (5:11)
3. My Mother Was A Chinese Trapeze Artist (4:42)
4. Angel, Won't You Call Me? (2:40)
5. I Don't Mind (4:39)
6. The Apology Song (3:11)

Total time: 23:52

Line-up / Musicians

- The Decemberists / main performers

Releases information

LP self-released USA (2001)
CD Hush 040 USA (2003)

Song lengths vary between versions

Thanks to ClemofNazareth for the addition
and to Joolz for the last updates
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THE DECEMBERISTS 5 Songs ratings distribution

(19 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(11%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(16%)
Good, but non-essential (37%)
Collectors/fans only (37%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

THE DECEMBERISTS 5 Songs reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by ClemofNazareth
2 stars This first effort from the Decemberists is not particularly strong I must admit. Colin Meloy’s vocals and witty storytelling are dead-on right from the first track, but musically there is quite a bit of work to be done before this band will be ready for the big stage.

Meloy was only a few months out of his alt-country band Tarkio when this was recorded, and there are definite signs of that kind of musical sensibility in these songs. In particular, the drums are pretty bland, simple tempos, very little variety in the other percussion, and overall quite bland. The band has gone through three or four drummers in their short existence, and I believe the one on this record is Ezra Holbrook, who was much better on ‘Castaways and Cutouts’ the following year before leaving the band, but who is nothing special here.

The keyboards are better, but here again the organ and a little accordion makes for a rather one-dimensional sound which is nowhere near as rich as the band would manage on their subsequent studio works.

I don’t know why this is called ‘5 Songs’ since there are six songs on the EP, but I suppose this is some sort of attempt at clever indie humor. Whatever.

“Oceanside” and “Shiny” both feel like tentative baby-steps for the band, neither making any strong lyrical or musical statement. The now sort-of-famous “My Mother was a Chinese Trapeze Artist” is the middle track. This was a little bit of a sarcastic whimsical tune Meloy wrote for his girlfriend out of frustration when his staid parents began to put pressure on him to abandon music for a more stable career. Meloy is charming here at least with his tongue-in-cheek seriousness and dead-pan delivery in front of almost completely acoustic instrumentation. This kind of reminds me of the cheekily-awkward humor of many standup comedians around today whose parents were immigrants that they constantly make jokes about. The tale of how this fictitious mother of his met her Russian husband and ended up tilling this soil in America is as believable as it is silly, and overall one can’t help but find it charming.

“Angel, Won't You Call Me?” on the other hand has a rhythm that sounds suspiciously like “Twist and Shout”, a decidedly American country-and-western timbre, and pretty plain guitars. Not much to get excited about really, and I suspect this tune was a holdover from Meloy’s Tarkio or Happy Cactus days.

“I Don't Mind” has the kind of brooding vocals and unambitious accompaniment that would become chick by the time ‘Her Majesty’ rolled around, but also by then the band had developed more showmanship and stage presence, the lyrics picked up quite a bit more detail, and the breadth of the percussion and supporting instrumentation grew exponentially. On this track it just sounds slightly amateur.

Finally with the “Apology Song” the band simply proves that their roots are in fact indie rock. This could have easily been a Barenaked Ladies or even a Zutons tune just as easily. Maybe this one should have been left off and this really would have been “5 Songs”.

So a decent first attempt by the band, but not really folkish, and surely not progressive. And really not particularly noteworthy either. I’m glad I have it since it completes the collection, but if I’m not mistaken that also pretty much designates this as a collectors-only piece, so two stars it is. Check out any of their full-length studio albums or their excellent DVD instead.


Review by ZowieZiggy
2 stars Their first EP (including.six songs) was released one year prior their debut album "Castaways And Cutouts". A nice work which combined great vocal harmonies as well as a pleasant musical feeling.

This first release, is far to reach this level. It is obvious that the band is much less mature and the song writing seriously lacks in the ability to distil subtle and fascinating songs like Odalisque for instance.

These songs are gently folkish all the way through. Some country accents are completing the picture. But I'm not really a fan of country music, which explains that "My Mother Was A Chinese Trapeze Artist" can hardly move me and it's almost the same story with "Angel."; even if the beat is some more enthusiastic.

The whole bunch of songs are too similar in essence and the overall mellow aspect is too much present during these six songs. Not very inspired I would say.

This EP is for die-hard fans and as such only deserves two stars.

Review by The Whistler
3 stars 3.5 Songs

Like many strapping young men, I went back in time with my precious Decemberists, seeking roots. The EP 5 Songs usually gets a bad rap for being a little too unpolished, and most fans can’t wait to move beyond it, and get their grubby little hands on Castaways and Cutouts. Well, c’mere, listen to me real close...this honestly isn’t much worse than Castaways and Cutouts. Hell, in terms of quality, I hardly see the difference.

Anyway, if it’s roots you want, we’ll play the “where’s the influence?” game. The calm, seaside pop of “Oceanside” seems to have more in common with The Beach Boys (dig the jangly guitars!) than Jethro Tull; which is not necessarily a bad thing. The tune is far from unpleasant, and definitely creates a atmosphere which unique (accordions! In pop music! What will they think of next?) and, well, oceanic. Whaddya want?

If it’s a minor key folk song dressed up like a pseudo-epic you want, the next song, “Shiny” should do ya fine. It’s actually my favorite spot on the record. Almost fully acoustic, save for some lovely slide guitar, the setup resembles Meddle-era Pink Floyd this time around. The beat drives forward, Colin’s lyrics are stretching towards artsy. Yes, yes, I like this. THIS is where things like The Tain take root, believe it or not.

“My Mother Was a Chinese Trapeze Artist,” despite the fancy title and lyrical content, is kind of a dip of quality. It’s a nice enough bit of laid back jazz, but beyond its theatrical dressing, it doesn’t have much to offer.

The next two songs show the gang experimenting with more Beach Boys-esque baroque pop outings. “Angel, Won’t You Call Me?” might not have the slick production of later Decemberist pop pieces, but it already shows that the band knows its way around a solid, intelligent pop tune. “I Don’t Mind” even features a small orchestra of some form...I don’t think it’d be a synth. This IS The Decemberists we’re talking about. Also, pay careful attention to the lyrics on “I Don’t Mind,” and see that Colin is already trying to write something “epic.”

What’s weird, but nice, is that the lads decide to end the EP pretty much as well as they opened it: there is nothing particularly artsy or intelligent about “The Apology Song,” but as far as indie rock jokes go, it’s hilarious; the charming little tale of what happened to a friend’s bike, complete with pleading vocals and a nice, layered guitar solo.

So the band is already in place: one part Beach Boys, one part Pink Floyd, one part jazz cabaret, one part indie folk...okay, so they’ve got miles to go, but clearly, this is the road to something good. All the material is tolerable, and some of it goes beyond the role of interesting curio and turns into solid Decemberists epic pop. What really saves it is the length; basically, the material is JUST good enough, and the EP is JUST short enough, and it really can’t fail. It all holds together. Castaways and Cutouts might have better production values, but it can’t hold a candle to 5 Songs in terms of overall tightness.

Still, I wouldn’t quite recommend this to anyone beyond a Decemberists fan wondering what the heck the band sounded like BEFORE “16 Military Wives.” Still, for those fans who do wander this far back, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Review by russellk
2 stars '5 Songs' is in fact a fairly respectable collection of six pleasant songs, a pastiche of alt-country, folk-rock and gentle pop. As the first outing for what is fast becoming a very important contemporary prog band, THE DECEMBERISTS' debut is by no means essential, and will not trouble your playlist more than a couple of times.

The patented DECEMBERISTS sound is here: accordion, steel guitar, COLIN MELOY's unique voice and delivery. The subject matter is present: careful observation of the small things of life (Apology Song), personal experiences (My Mother Was A Chinese Trapeze Artist) and things nautical (Oceanside). So what's missing? The twists that turn mundane material into something grand, that's what. Later DECEMBERISTS material offers sharper observations, more complex music and arrangements, and significantly more challenging concepts. This is just too straightforward to capture the imagination.

There are hints that MELOY has something greater in mind. The cover suggests that words are important to him, and the song titles imply the sense of quirky, twisted black humour we see more of later. But hints are not enough to encourage the casual progger to purchase this album.

Every musician has to start somewhere. Some artists are forever defined by their magnificent debuts (MIKE OLDFIELD, for example) while others use them as stepping stones to something greater. Happily, THE DECEMBERISTS are in the latter category. The best thing about this release is the promise it shows, but there is nothing here to compel you to return.

Review by Conor Fynes
2 stars '5 Songs' - The Decemberists (4/10)

Every band starts somewhere, and some bands end up quite a long distance from where they began. Nowadays, this group from Portland, Oregon has gone to release some highly artistic and enjoyable releases that reinforce their indie roots with edgy arrangements and the ambition to delve into other, unexpected genres. Now this early EP is not truly bad and not mindless at all; rather, it is painfully mediocre and although a few songs are quite pleasant to listen to, a few really fall short.

The music is essentially acoustic guitar driven backed up with a band and a few unexpected instruments thrown into the mix for good measure. One thing that you might notice on the first listen of this album (here comes a big spoiler!) is that there are actually six songs on the album, contradicting what the song title suggests. I don't know if they did this to get some added hipster cred, or just to be funny but it is not worth much more than a fleeting snicker.

The only two songs that really stand out as being 'good' songs are 'Shiny' and 'My Mother Was A Chinese Trapeze Artist,' especially the second one mentioned. These aren't fantastic by any account, but they are well-written and have a decent performance to go along. The lyrics (despite Colin Meloy being a fantastic poet) are sort of ridiculous throughout. Colin goes from singing about having his parents lose him to a pirate in a bet to wanting to work in a bakery to apologizing to his friend for losing a bicycle named Madeleine. Suffice to say, the inane lyrics get irritating, and I completely understand that indie-folk does not usually jump to levels of true profundity and isn't trying to blow anyone away; but compared to a lot of the stuff that this band would do later on, there is not much point to this.

Review by Neu!mann
2 stars Ignoring their year 2009 masterpiece "The Hazards of Love" (and the better parts of "The Crane Wife" album), The Decemberists were never really a Progressive Rock band. What earned them a seat at the ProgArchives table was an eccentric Indie/Alt Rock sound crossbred with occasional closet Prog tendencies, few of which were apparent in their first EP, released in 2001.

Instead, the mini-album offered a pleasant but tentative calling card, announcing the arrival of a natural songwriter with a knack for easy hooks and eccentric storylines. Even in this larval stage of development Colin Meloy's adenoidal whimsy was an acquired taste. Ditto his usual cast of oddball characters, including King George "in imperial robe and lazy eye"; an Asian circus performer smuggling arms to the French underground; and a stolen bicycle named Madeline.

And of course there's Meloy himself, the band's colorful ringleader and self-described "ne'er-do-well": a literate wordsmith still in search of his lyrical groove, for the moment not above trying to rhyme 'corduroy' with 'Polaroid'. Missing in this beginner's sampler is the band's trademark vaudeville theatricality, although the song "My Mother Was a Chinese Trapeze Artist" anticipates in embryonic form the gaslight melodramas of later Decemberist narratives.

Meloy was quixotic enough to keep the EP's original title after adding a sixth song to the package. Either way, there's little here to suggest a group headed for anything more than cult success. In the end it's an enjoyable but hardly distinguished first effort, painting an honest portrait of the band's less ambitious musical aspirations.

Latest members reviews

2 stars Don't let my rating fool you, this is indeed a very good EP by The Decemberists, especially considering it was their first (though Colin was already very experienced in songwriting and producing by this time). It just lacks any progressive influence at all. The band shows this influence more and ... (read more)

Report this review (#121863) | Posted by Speesh | Sunday, May 13, 2007 | Review Permanlink

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