Uggggghhhhh….stupid s’mores. I ate so many last week that I tried to walk it all off this week. I got some good workouts in, but I also got some really sore hips. Add in the fact that I'm running on 4 hours of sleep, and I’m a total bum today with not much energy.
“Oh, but you can’t be a bum, Tiger!” you say. “You have a job to do! You have to sit around and listen to really weird music that nobody’s ever heard of, and you have to convince us that it’s really really really awesome and the bestest stuff we’ve ever heard, and if we don’t listen to it, the universe will implode, and….and…”
Ok, you all probably didn’t just say that. At least I hope not. But I’m sure that many of you are thinking I’m not going to have something ready for you to read since all I want to do is relax and refuel. Though while I’m not much of a multitasker, I’m still able to both relax and listen to a band that is alphabetically next in line and also produces music that doesn’t always require me to get up and do the Running Man. That band, my friends, is Colin Melloy’s Baroque-pop band The Decemberists and their 2005 story-song album Picaresque.
So enough of my whiny rambling….let’s roll.
"The Infanta": Ooh, coyotes! I’m really loving the blend of the piano, organ, and percussion here. The Cavalry-like rhythm and cadence give it a great bounce and make me feel like I’m riding a horse. Grade: A-
"We Both Go Down Together": This mid-tempo track tells a very Wuthering Heights-ish tale of star-crossed lovers, set to pounding drums, subtle piano, and a light, yet somewhat wistful violin riff. While the subject is a bit morose, the music has a curious little toe-tapper quality. Grade: B
"Eli, The Barrow Boy": Dear Lord, this is depressing….more death! First Eli’s lady love is dead (murder? Suicide?) and then Eli himself is found dead (murder? Suicide?)….and then, in the last verse, he’s a ghost pushing his wheelbarrow! Creepers! The guitar with the very soft accordion in the background does a brilliant job of bringing out just how truly sad this situation really is. I love it, yet at the same time, I’m getting the urge to go jump off a bridge. Grade: A
"The Sporting Life": Ahh, finally, we go to something a bit more humorous! Well, at least the percussion and bass work give it that funny, quirky feel. However, getting humiliated on the football field is really no laughing matter, especially if your coach and family have such high hopes like this song suggests. Still though, Colin Melloy’s voice works well as the failed athlete. Grade: B+
"The Bagman’s Gambit": Yet another star-crossed lovers tale, but I think government espionage is involved in this one. The guitar riff is nice, but starts to drag a little fairly early in the song. Finally, two minutes in, the rest of the band kicks in and juices everything up for a few seconds before going back to just the guitar. This goes on for a little while before letting a great string section take over on the bridge, transitioning to a big cacophony of sounds, and finally back to just the guitar. With the lyrics the up-and-down playing of the band is well-done, but at times it feels like it goes on for way too long. Grade: B-/C+
"From My Own True Love": More lost love….this time, a ship supposedly went down, and the subject is waiting to see if he gets a letter from his wife who was supposed to be traveling on it. The melancholy nature of the man’s yearning blends gorgeously in with the guitar, tympanis, and mandolin. Grade: B+
"16 Military Wives": This isn’t so much a story-song as it is a war protest song. Though the topic is pretty controversial, the beat and chorus are insanely catchy, and Colin’s use of numbers throughout the songs lyrics is pretty genius. I also love the balance of drums, tambourine, horns, and organ on the bridge. The best song on the album. Grade: A+
"The Engine Driver": What’s cool about this song is the way that the snare drums and guitar play off other to create a subtle train-like sound. The female backing vocals really help enhance the chorus, and the accordion is a nice touch. Grade: B
"On The Bus Mall": Right from “Engine Driver” we segue into the next track, about two male prostitutes in Portland (!!!) using the public transit system to, um, do business. Colin’s guitar work is heavily featured here, as is some great rim percussion work. It’s the type of song that, while long, is one you can just sit on your bed listening to on a quiet afternoon. Grade: A
"The Mariner’s Revenge Song": And now we get to the song that inspired this article’s title. Oh, this is a fun one. Basically, the subject is telling a fellow sailor, whom he is trapped with in the belly of a whale (not sure if that literally or figuratively) the story of how this guy was taken in by the narrator’s mom, only to completely screw her over. As he relives his mother’s situation, the female band member briefly takes over as the mother and tells her son to go get revenge in very graphic and gruesome ways. While the narrator is telling his “friend” the story, his tone becomes increasingly creepy and obsessed with revenge, and the song ends just before he can finish him off and become vindicated. While all this is going on in the lyrics, accordion and tambourine accompany, and make me want to do a Russian folk dance. And I don’t mean that as a bad thing. Grade: A+
"Of Angels and Angles": The last song is a stark contrast to the long, raucousness of the previous track. This one is short, soft, and only has some acoustic finger-picking. And yes, lyrically, it’s about yet more death and suicide. Whee. Grade: B+
And there you have it. Considering the many songs about death, one would think this album was just a flat-out downer. However, there are enough up-tempo tracks to keeps a little variety in the album, and even the depressing songs have some really beautiful elements. It’s a great album worth checking out, especially if you like hearing unique instruments tied in with more traditional ones.
Recommended Songs: “16 Military Wives,” “On The Bus Mall,” “Eli, The Barrow Boy,” “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” “The Infanta”
Until next time…..long live sore hips and ticked-off sailors.