The band most likely to win a Scrabble tournament, The Decemberists hail from Portland, Oregon, and are notable for flaunting their extensive vocabulary in song. Despite their American heritage, they’re staunch Anglophiles; many of their early songs are set in Victorian England, while leader Colin Meloy is a fan of English folkies like Shirley Collins and Nic Jones, and other British acts like The Smiths and The Waterboys.
The Decemberists aren’t especially innovative musically – they’re a straightforward indie folk band who colour their music with accordions and fiddles. There are plenty of antecedents for their indie folk, like Neutral Milk Hotel and Belle and Sebastian, and Meloy’s braying voice has similarities to Jeff Magmum’s.
I sincerely enjoy The Decemberists, but you might want to bear in mind that as a bearded history graduate, I’m their target demographic. But I enjoy their wordplay, and they’ve built up a consistent body of work since 2002’s Castaways and Cutouts. While they’re broadly categorised as folk-rock, their work runs the gamut from the concise and hooky songs of 2011’s The King is Dead to the dense progressive rock opera of 2009’s The Hazards of Love. The group’s output has slowed recently, as Meloy has worked on other projects like children’s literature. The group’s lineup has remained unchanged since 2005; Meloy is joined by Chris Funk on guitar, Jenny Conlee on keyboards, Nate Query on bass, and drummer John Moen.
Favourite Ten Decemberists’ Songs
Lesley Anne Levine
Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect
The Engine Driver
16 Military Wives
Rox In The Box
Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)
One of my favourite Decemberists’ songs is only found on a compilation: