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The Decemberists

The Decemberists The King is Dead

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
Sleepless
Cavalry Captain
The Island
Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect
The Tain
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:

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The Decemberists Castaways and Cutouts

Castaways and Cutouts – The Decemberists

2002, 9/10. The Decemberists’ first LP is an assured debut, with the band’s bookish folk rock style already fleshed out.

The Decemberists Her Majesty The Decemberists

Her Majesty The Decemberists – The Decemberists

2003, 7/10. The Decemberists sophomore album is overwhelmed by mid-nineteenth century Victoriana whimsy.

The Decemberists The Tain

The Tain – The Decemberists

2004, 8/10. The Decemberists’ progressive rock EP recalls the halycon 1970’s days of Jethro Tull and Genesis.

The Decemberists Picaresque

Picaresque – The Decemberists

2005, 8/10. Picaresque showcases a sunnier Decemberists, with upbeat pop tunes like ‘The Engine Driver’ and ’16 Military Wives’.

The Decemberists The Crane Wife

The Crane Wife – The Decemberists

2006, 8.5/10. The excellent The Crane Wife centers around two song cycles, based on Shakespeare and a Japanese folk tale;

The Decemberists The Hazards of Love

The Hazards of Love – The Decemberists

2009, 7.5/10. A full blown rock opera with guest vocalists, The Hazards of Love again recalls 1970’s progressive rock.

The Decemberists The King is Dead

The King is Dead – The Decemberists

2011, 9/10. With an Americana sound and a succinct ten tracks, The King is Dead is The Decemberists’ most accessible album.

The Decemberists What A Terrible World What A Beautiful World

What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World – The Decemberists

2015, 7/10. Colin Meloy’s songs are more personal than ever before on this overlong sequel to The King Is Dead.

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