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The Decemberists - 5 Songs CD (album) cover


The Decemberists


Prog Folk

2.26 | 18 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
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.

The Whistler | 3/5 |


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