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THE DECEMBERISTS

Prog Folk • United States


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The Decemberists biography
The Decemberists are a sometimes-quintet hailing from Portland, Oregon and currently signed to the Capitol Records label. While often referred to as an indie band, they have evolved over their seven years of existence into a group that delivers passionate, ambitious, and sophisticated story-centered music that both incorporates and transcends a number of styles and apparent influences. The band has established a reputation for eclectic and wildly unconventional arrangements, lively and interactive concerts, and unusual lyrical themes that sometimes border on the bizarre.

Band founder Colin MELOY was born and reared in the rustic and rugged northwestern hamlet of Helena, Montana (USA), and began his musical career as singer/songwriter for the alternative-country bands HAPPY CACTUS and TARKIO before resettling in Portland to form the DECEMBERISTS. Meloy has also toured as a solo act promoting his personal recordings of Morrissey covers, as well as a heavily folk-driven album of Shirley Collins standards.

The band's first offering was the self-released '5 Songs' in 2001, actually a six-track EP which included several songs referencing local Montana historical sites and events, as well as the whimsical ditty "My Mother Was A Chinese Trapeze Artist" written in response to pressure from his parents to abandon music for a more reliable and respected career. This was followed by their first full length album 'Castaways and Cutouts', which was packed with character sketches and period pieces with references ranging from the Nazi concentration camps of Birkenau to ghosts of stillborn infants, to homeless people in love to a mother-turned-prostitute trying to feed her children. The sympathetic glimpses of the human Struggle and unconventional instrumentation are reminiscent of bands like VIOLENT FEMMES or an unpretentious version of NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL.

Their next album 'Her Majesty the Decemberists' began a gravitation toward nautical themes possibly influenced by the band's settling in the coastal town of Portland, Oregon. In addition to what were by now becoming almost obligatory odd character sketches such as the story of a chimney sweep (a desperate wedded couple; gymnast; and a bumbling soldier) were a number of historical tales centered around the American poet Myla Goldberg, as well as the British frigate HMS Arethusa. The album also includes Meloy's passionate life-affirmation "I Was Meant for the Stage".

The band's breakthrou...
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Live at Bull MooseLive at Bull Moose
Capitol Records 2011
Audio CD$4.94
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THE DECEMBERISTS discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

THE DECEMBERISTS top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.62 | 42 ratings
Castaways and Cutouts
2002
3.18 | 31 ratings
Her Majesty
2003
3.58 | 62 ratings
Picaresque
2005
3.97 | 122 ratings
The Crane Wife
2006
4.09 | 236 ratings
The Hazards of Love
2009
2.91 | 68 ratings
The King Is Dead
2011

THE DECEMBERISTS Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.00 | 1 ratings
Live From SoHo
2007
3.15 | 7 ratings
We All Raise Our Voices to the Air
2012

THE DECEMBERISTS Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

3.88 | 5 ratings
A Practical Handbook
2007

THE DECEMBERISTS Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

THE DECEMBERISTS Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

2.25 | 11 ratings
5 Songs
2001
3.72 | 17 ratings
The Tain
2004
2.03 | 5 ratings
Billy Liar
2004
3.00 | 2 ratings
16 Military Wives
2005
2.57 | 4 ratings
Picaresqueties
2005
3.00 | 2 ratings
Connect Sets
2006
2.69 | 5 ratings
Always The Bridesmaid: Vol 1
2008
2.55 | 4 ratings
Always The Bridesmaid: Vol 2
2008
3.03 | 5 ratings
Always The Bridesmaid: Vol 3
2008
2.52 | 6 ratings
Down By The Water
2010
3.96 | 7 ratings
Long Live the King
2011

THE DECEMBERISTS Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 The Crane Wife by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Studio Album, 2006
3.97 | 122 ratings

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The Crane Wife
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by Obsidian Pigeon

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.

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 We All Raise Our Voices to the Air by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Live, 2012
3.15 | 7 ratings

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We All Raise Our Voices to the Air
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Following the release of their most commercial (and commercially successful) studio album to date, the vagabonds and ragamuffins of The Decemberists return with a double-disc live set from their year 2011 American tour. It was probably inevitable that the band would choose to consolidate its popularity with a big, generous live package. But critics could also argue it's a surefire way to avoid making any decision about where to go next: down the same easy path to mainstream accessibility marked by their album "The King Is Dead", or back toward the whimsical folk-rock narratives of earlier efforts, with their petticoats, pantaloons, and restless Victorian ghosts.

So the new live album finds the group comfortably settled on their flowery laurels: a respite they've certainly earned. And fans who might have felt a slight letdown after hearing "The King Is Dead" should be reassured by the omnibus nature of the set list, drawn from the band's entire history, all the way back to their year 2001 demo EP "5 Songs".

It's not an entirely accurate representation of any single gig, however. Ringleader Colin Meloy cherry-picked elements from throughout the tour to assemble an idealized faux-concert, complete with Meloy's often priceless between-song banter (in truth, one of the big attractions to these discs). Alas, none of the songs were culled from the show I attended in Lewiston, New York, on the bluffs above the Niagara River...it would have been fun to hear drummer John Moen's unscripted rendition of "The Monster Mash" again.

I wouldn't expect this live CD to win any new fans. With the exception of the "The Crane Wife" trilogy of songs, performed uninterrupted and (unlike the studio versions) in the proper sequence, newcomers may wonder why an REM-influenced Indie Rock ensemble is even included on this site at all. In answer I would direct your skeptical attention to the album "The Hazards of Love": a masterpiece of modern Prog, but without the usual imitative ties to the 1970s, and sadly represented here by only one cut ("The Rake's Song"), somewhat orphaned when heard out of context.

The show comes to a rousing climax with "The Mariner's Revenge Song", one of those obligatory crowd-pleasers in danger of being spoiled by overexposure, not unlike "Roundabout" by Yes or the long-standing Jethro Tull ball-and-chain "Aqualung". But the encore is encouraging: a faithful performance of the otherwise routine ballad "I Was Meant For the Stage", devolving in its final chorus into an extended free-form barrage of raw, over-amped noise.

Perhaps that unexpected coda was meant as a challenge by Meloy to his fans: don't get too complacent just yet..! But for now it's enough to simply enjoy the spectacle of a unique band caught in the spotlight at the crossroads of ambition: no longer just another eccentric cult act, and precariously navigating the knife-edge of real success.

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 The Hazards of Love by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Studio Album, 2009
4.09 | 236 ratings

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The Hazards of Love
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars This is the only Decemberists album I've really found myself to be enthused by, perhaps because it's the one album of theirs where they do the most to dial back the affected tweeness that occasionally irritates in their other work. A gothic folk melodrama concept album revolving around deadly feuds, fatal consequences, sinister crimes and supernatural weirdness, the Decemberists create a jagged sonic world which runs with some of the grimmer themes indulged in by the likes of Comus, albeit with a vastly more accessible musical backing - for instance, The Rake's Song is the catchiest, happiest sing-along prog folk song about murdering your own children I've ever heard. A unique chiller.

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 Her Majesty by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Studio Album, 2003
3.18 | 31 ratings

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Her Majesty
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

3 stars At first listen, The Decemberist's Her Majesty isn't an album I'd put forward for the prog folk category. The band's roots in the indie folk scene are very apparent throughout this baroque and occasionally twee album, and a cursory early listen didn't suggest much to me which was progressive about it. But on repeated listens I find that the band do succeed in building in little quirks and twists here and there which taken as a whole are suggestive of their more ambitious and experimental works. If this were an indie rock site I'd give it three and a half stars, but this is progarchives so three stars is the best I can do.

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 Long Live the King by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2011
3.96 | 7 ratings

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Long Live the King
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by jammun
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Well [&*!#] yeah I'm in a bar in Montana...could be Missoula or Livingstone or Butte I dunno I-90 runs through many hellholes some of which are toxic and I've been on the road a while...and there is a band playing? and eventually I'm so far gone that I don't even notice that I've had a couple too many pitchers of beer in that bar, but I'm a polite guy, some from Idaho might say scholarly, and I duck under the table and the vomit coming out of my mouth just disappears into the sawdust on the floor, which let's face is there for a reason. Not like they just decide to put it there for ambiance. We are deep into Americana, that being what they call it Now, and there had best be some sawdust to catch the inevitable fallout.

Really, I'm so wrecked that I hardly notice that some of the songs that band is playing sound like The Decemberists, way back before they started playing that uppity prog-rock stuff. Some goes back to a sort of prog-folk sound, that E. Watson song for example. Other stuff is just flat- out psychedelic, say Burying Davy.

But it's ol' Row Jimmy that gets me going. Grab a rabbit by the hare. I don't know if Colin just missed that or decided to go his own road. The guy's no fool so the smart money is on the latter. Those pedal steel tones, that Neil Young staggering back beat that comes in the morning, no not that morning, not the one after a good nights' sleep. No, the one after a bad jag on yer unfortunate drug of choice, when you are just thankful to wake up, who cares where you left the girlfriend or the van.Well it's a Dead song, so what would we expect? But Holy Shite it is beautiful when a band can make it sound like no one else in the band know what the hell they are doing, that blissful night before that morning, and yet it comes together.

So Long Live the King. It's but an EP, no expectations, no promises.

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 The King Is Dead by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Studio Album, 2011
2.91 | 68 ratings

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The King Is Dead
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by Tombo2

5 stars "The Crane Wife" was my introduction to The Decemberists. I remember being particularly captivated by the catchier, poppier aspects to songs like "O Valencia", "Summersong", and the Crane Wife trilogy, and less by the prog side of the album (though, I admired the GG-like counterpoint of "Sons & Daughters"). It was fair to say, that The Decemberists, were somewhat of a guilty pleasure in my catalogue of flat-out prog rock classics. Once "The Hazards of Love" was released, I was hesitant to listen. In fact, it was only after a period of heavy contemplation, I decided to pick up the album, not having previously heard anything from it. Good decision. Possibly, the best decision I ever made. It turned out to be one of my favorite albums of all time, for the very fact that, it was progressive. It was eccentric. The concept, the instrumentation, the recurring themes, the strung together songs, it was a complete album. I played that one out. After that, I needed more, so I submerged myself in the sea that was the back-catalogue of Colin Meloy and friends, finding very little in the way of disappointment. So, when "The King Is Dead" came out, I heard it might be the last album they were going to make, well, I couldn't wait to hear it.

I didn't wait. I heard the whole thing, song by song, on YouTube before it was released. And I still bought it, the day it came out.

Now, I'll admit: "The King" is not progressive. Not eccentric. Not even a little. But, it is entertaining. "Hazards" was a musical masterpiece, but it was melancholy, mournful, sobering. There is a charm to the upbeat "King". It has nothing but a care-free feel. It's almost as if, Meloy realized he couldn't do better than "Hazards", so he just said: "wtf", and did whatever came to him. Forget the eccentricities.

Good idea. "The King" has all of the appeal of the previous Decemberists albums, it just lacks the overall structure. It keeps your attention. Even if there are no recurring themes, no bridges to link the songs, and it has very basic rock instrumentation, as an album, it succeeds.

From the captivating fun of "Don't Carry It All", "All Arise, and "Calamity Song" (which recalls the contrasting feel and lyric of Your Majesty's "Los Angeles, I'm yours"), to the laid-back comfort of "January Hymn" and "Dear Avery", to the punchy "Down By the Water" and "This Is Why We Fight", "The King Is Dead" has a persistent charisma that keeps it enticing.

This is the catchier, poppier, Decemberists. Without the prog. But, that's okay. It is still a complete album. Anyone who enjoyed The Decemberists for their sound and not their complexity, should like this. Maybe it sounds like REM. Maybe it sounds alt-country. I don't know. I don't care. All I know, is: I love it. Its charm and optimism is in great contrast to the dreariness of "Hazards", and it makes for the perfect swansong (if it has to be) of The Decemberists.

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 Down By The Water by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2010
2.52 | 6 ratings

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Down By The Water
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by Epignosis
Special Collaborator Eclectic Prog Team

3 stars Down by the Water" has a Louisiana Southern Rock sound that appeals to me, having grown up in the southeast region of North Carolina. The song has a mean harmonica and foot-stomping rhythm. As a country boy, this song has it out for me even if it has nothing to do with progressive rock. Despite any resemblance to The Decemberists of old, this song is straight-up country music made for today. Gillian Welch's vocals are a welcome appearance on this raw country rock tune, and produce a nice contrast to Colin Meloy's familiar inflections. I love the tremolo on the guitar.

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 The King Is Dead by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Studio Album, 2011
2.91 | 68 ratings

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The King Is Dead
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by FunkyM

3 stars Much has been made of The Decemberists' 2011 album The King Is Dead. In some circles it has been considered a return to their folky roots. Meanwhile, on Progarchives.com it (as of this writing) holds the lowest rating of any Decemberists album.

It's easy to see why this album may polarize some. It is a very different beast than the group's 2009 album, The Hazards of Love (which just may be my favourite album of that year). Gone are the bombastic progressive rock influences and the grandiose concept album storylines. Instead we have something more along the lines of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young-meets-Blue Rodeo with a little bit of Bob Dylan and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers thrown in. The Decemberists' trademark sound is still easily recognizable though. They're in safe territory with this album and the folk-rock influences are indeed strong.

While this album may not appeal to prog-rock fans, is it a bad album? In my opinion it isn't. While it doesn't reach the heights of The Hazards of Love or The Crane Wife, the songwriting is still good and a number of the tracks on the album are memorable. The second half of the album is particularly good. My favourites are "Down By The Water", "June Hymn", and the closer, "Dear Avery".

In my opinion, The King Is Dead is successful for what the album aims for, but it is a drastic change in style from their last few albums. Consider yourself warned.

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 Long Live the King by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2011
3.96 | 7 ratings

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Long Live the King
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator Prog Folk Researcher

4 stars Of course Colin Meloy would follow up a record titled 'The King is Dead' with one titled 'Long Live the King'. Although this isn't a new studio album proper, but rather a small EP- sized collection of b-sides and songs recorded around the time of the 'King is Dead' CD and released after the band wrapped up their supporting tour and has embarked on a long hiatus while Meloy pursues a writing career and the other members wander off to work on projects of their own.

These songs are even more Americana and stark than 'The King is Dead', consisting almost entirely of acoustic instrumentation and simple vocals and without the sorely- missed keyboards and energy of Jenny Conlee as she recovers from cancer (best wishes Jenny!). R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Gillian Welch, guests on 'King' are gone here but Laura Veirs and Annalisa Tornfelt, folk-rockers in their own rights provide the requisite understated female backing vocals that have become such a key part of every Decemberists album.

The songs are pretty unassuming, but the key elements of the Decemberists sound come through clearly: Meloy's slightly whiney but endearing vocals and energetic 12-string guitar work; Chris Funk's guitar playing that belies a life spent bouncing between Black Sabbath and Neil Young records; Nate Query's cocky bass; and John Moen's beguilingly simple percussion. And of course those backing vocals helping Meloy weave tales of the weird folk and the depravity that are our heritage.

"E. Watson" is a loosely woven tale apparently taken from Peter Matthiessen's 'Shadow Country' trilogy that combines Meloy's penchant for biographies of seedy characters and the band's newfound appreciation for acoustic folk-rock with heavy country influences. It sets the mood for the entire EP although the band does kick things up to a bit more of a rocking vibe at times. "Foregone" opens with a great combination of Meloy's acoustic guitar and Funk's steel guitar that recalls country-rock greats of our youth like the Marshall Tucker Band, Bellamy Brothers and maybe even a little Poco. I say "ours" because Meloy grew up in northwestern Montana just like I did, and it's obvious to my when listening to these songs that he spun records from those guys at some point in his formative years.

On the other hand "Burying Davy" is something of a throwback to the earlier Decemberists days, chortling out the tale of a scoundrel to the sounds of wicked guitar riffs and a dirge of a rhythm in the vein of "When the War Came", "Shankill Butchers" and "The Infanta". The lyrics here are simple but the band still manages to evoke that dark yet nostalgic mood so much of the Decemberists catalog is imbued with.

"I 4 U & U 4 Me" is a demo cut that is cleaned up pretty well for inclusion here and gives a nice view of the band's keen sense of melody and rhythm and seemingly effortless ability to stick the two together into something toe-tappingly appealing.

The band has performed the Grateful Dead standard "Row Jimmy" live before and included it as the b-side of a seven inch single from 'The King is Dead' so its inclusion here isn't much of a surprise. In fact, the only surprise is that the band hasn't mastered more Dead material given the ease with which they plunk this one out, sounding all the world like a slightly more urban and Northern version of a young Allman Brothers with a little unplugged Bad Company mixed in. Granted, this is the sort of music that will mostly appeal to Americans, but anyone who counts the Decemberists as a favorite band has to appreciate this respectful yet independent approach to the song.

And with the closing "Sonnet" Meloy offers up another "Grace Cathedral Hill" or "Odalisque" indie ballad that will undoubtedly be performed many times in future concerts, assuming the band ever goes back on the road again.

I truly hope this is not the last we hear of the Decemberists, but am glad the band saw to it that loyal fans were rewarded with one more taste of the sounds that helped form some of our best memories of the past decade. If you are even remotely curious about this band I strongly recommend you pick up their 'A Practical Handbook' DVD and then ease your way toward this final EP, picking your way through everything they've done to this point and giving yourself the pleasure of a band that made an awful lot of people happy during their too-brief tenure. A solid four stars and very highly recommended.

peace

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 The King Is Dead by DECEMBERISTS, THE album cover Studio Album, 2011
2.91 | 68 ratings

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The King Is Dead
The Decemberists Prog Folk

Review by kenethlevine
Special Collaborator Prog-Folk Team

4 stars Even at their most musically ambitious, the DECEMBERISTS have remained primarily a folk rock indie band. While their prior 3 albums blended a compelling progressive penchant into this mix, they never came close to forgetting their debt to British, Irish, and, indeed, American roots music. Going back further, their "Castaways and Cutouts" was almost entirely of this ilk, and the closest in style to "The King is Dead" from this group's growing body of work. Yet it is also utterly different from that early disk in mood, conviction and group dynamics, which it actually possesses this time around..

While the pendulum has admittedly swung to rural USA, what makes "The King is Dead" so fascinating is that is the work of an American band sounding like an Anglo band sounding like an American band. The sublime "Don't Carry it All" is a ringer for LINDISFARNE circa "Dingley Dell", while "Rox in the Box" picks up where the WATERBOYS' classic "Room to Roam" left off, down to the excerpts from "Raggle Taggle Gypsy". Sure, the stylish and incisive "Down by the Water" could pass for a more enthusiastic REM, but its accordion deployment suggests worship of the OYSTERBAND and even THE MEN THEY COULDN'T HANG, both from the elite of outlaw UK/Irish celtic rock. I hasten to add that it's all spun through Meloy's unique vision into a new American paradigm of folk rock, one with a Masters in Communication rather than a C-average in high school.

Those who accuse the DECEMBERISTS of progressive treason are not without justification, but, as I said, they've done this all before here and there, never woven into anything like the brocade here before us. Whereas in prior releases the diminutive giants "Eli the Barrow Boy" or "On the Bus Mall" squeezed like Napoleon between the progressive suites, here we have a chorus of peers, birds of a feather sweetly imparting their typically weighty insights, making it more challenging than ever to pick a few highlights. Still, "January Hymn" and "June Hymn" are a bit more precocious than the less ecclesiastical numbers, and "this is Why We Fight" is perhaps the band's sharpest commentary both musically and lyrically to date, which is saying something, saying a lot.

With an ever more imposing canon and a willingness to forge fashion rather than follow it, the DECEMBERISTS have all but assured that they, like the proverbial king, will survive themselves. Their best overall effort to date.

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