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The Decemberists
Her Majesty, The Decemberists
by: Sun-J

Historical preservation through storytelling is a lost art. Long gone are days when one's word of mouth can conjure up, and amplify a hero's deeds, or a villain?s shrewd mischief. The closest reference we have is Greek and roman mythology which preserves cultural beliefs and manifests historical memorabilia. Portland's The Decemberists are a folk-tale band with musical savvy. Their songs are stories, historic passages and myths borrowing, sometimes exaggerated detail from pigeonholed volumes of historical references budding with morose, polyphonic lyricism. Writer and lyricist Colin Meloy's poetic justice comes into light as his gift of focusing on a certain scene can translate into a glorious tale. The fivesome comprised of the aforementioned lyricist, also boasts Jenny Conlee on keys, Jesse Emerson on bass, Rachel Blumberg on drums, and Chris Funk on guitar and steel pedal. Their previous album, Castaways & Cutouts was highly regarded as a 2002 release on the Kill Rock Stars label, though it is pertinent to point out that the album was actually released in 2001 on Hush records, and then after garnering credibility, was re-released for mass consumption. In fact, sixth months later, the label dropped Her Majesty, The Decemberists. Enclosed with the album is a lyric sheet, a strong statement by the band. It is important for listeners to understand the lyrics, and perhaps the band has chosen to provide a lyric sheet so that the masses can sing along, and essentially pass on stories so that heros, villains and morals may live on as they did years ago, via music. The album opens up with "Shanty for the Arethusa," a dark song about a crew of pirates heading to South Australia from the perspective of a homesick Frenchmen over the humming of minor chords and passive harmonies. The next track, "Billy Liar," expands Meloy's witty lyricism with lines such as, "Billy Liar's got his hands in pockets, he's staring over at the neighbors, knickers down." The third track marks the standout track, and possibly radio single. Opening with cymbals and an acoustic guitar, "Los Angeles I'm Yours," is a rhythmic guitar driven melody with swirling string sections and a dampening organ amidst morose phrases, "How I abhor this place, it's sweet and bitter taste has left me wretched, retching on all fours, Los Angeles I'm Yours." "The Bachelor and the Bride," is an organ thumping riff secured by a juxtaposing chorus, "I will box your ears and leave you here stripped bare." "The Soldiering Life," is a brilliantly written number of comradeship in warfare while "Red Right Ankle," is a provocative ballad with mysterious lyrics. "I Was Meant for the Stage," bolsters Meloy's witty lyrics to boastful in a gentlemen fashion with multisyllabic adjectives and verbs, "I was meant for applause, I was meant for derision..." The closing song "As I Rise," is followed by an obscure bonus track with its country twang and sentimental organ. As a whole, Her Majesty, The Decemberists rivals Castaways & Cutouts in that the album as a whole isn't as cohesive; rather it is a free lanced storybook with differing concepts where as Castaways & Cutouts seemed more like a series. However, Her Majesty, The Decemberists is advanced in that musically as a whole, the band orchestrates as a unit. In fact, on Her Majesty, The Decembrists we find the backup up vocals of Rachel Blumberg to calm the lyrical chaos stirred by the lexicon mastermind, Meloy. In closing, the album has a much warmer feel, and the presence of all five musicians are felt on every track. Save for a few missteps, I would consider this album to be on par with Castaways & Cutouts. Unfortunately commercial success is hard to reach for bands with musical content such as The Decemberists.


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