The Decemberists

Though the current fad is to compartmentalize indie rock of the last decade as something quaint, narrow, and somewhat embarrassing, the Decemberists shouldn’t have to worry about the fickle listening preferences of tastemakers. Even at the height of indie rock’s move to the mainstream, the Decemberists were never cool. Their early LPs, 2002′sCastaways And Cutouts and 2003′sHer Majesty The Decemberists were rightfully met with sideways glances and furrowed eyebrows by the indie culture. Measured skepticism was used to examine their olde-tymey subject matter, their sing-song melodies, their Renaissance Faire-inspired arrangements, their plain-jane fashion sense, and songwriter Colin Meloy’s penchant for SAT vocabulary. Fans of intellectual art rock were generally more captivated with the Books and Sufjan Stevens at the time, while the Rapture and Broken Social Scene seemed more in touch with the indie rock’s forming ideas of a rock star. Even a band called the Unicorns were cooler than the Decemberists in 2003.

With such a left-field sensibility as performers, it’s not surprising that the Decemberists almost crashed out of the gate. After self-recording the six-song 5 Songs EP in 2001, Meloy has referred to the Castaways And Cutouts sessions as attempt to stem the band’s decreasing momentum, and the debut LP was completed to fulfill a promise to his acclaimed writer sister, Maile Meloy, and done so with the suspicion that they were recording just for the sake of recording.

So why and how are we talking about the Decemberists in 2013, as a band whose last album, 2011′s The King Is Dead sold 94,000 copies in its first week? For starters, the band had champions; a few brave souls that forced their music into the line of sight. “You like Neutral Milk Hotel? Oh, then you’ll love the Decemberists. It’s like NMH but they tour.”

As the band progressed, other entry points could be found. Meloy covered Morrissey on a solo, tour-only EP. R.E.M. could be heard as an influence on “July July” and “Red Right Ankle” long before Peter Buck would join the sessions of The King Is Dead. Joanna Newsom’s “Bridges And Balloons” would appear in the bonus offerings of Picaresque, an EP titled Picaresqueties. Meloy even wrote a 33 1/3 entry on The Replacements’ Let It Be. Coming from the same musical background as the vocal indie fans of that era may not have got the Decemberists played at parties, but those who fell in love, fell in love hard. Further aiding their rise was the fact the meek, indie-leaning music writers could look at Meloy and believe he was one of them. A creative writing student-turned-musician, moving from the edge of the civilized world in Montana to the booming center of culture and art that is Portland (the dream of the ’90s was alive, remember), Meloy’s life was what a music journalist wished their own would be, and that made the Decemberists a band the blogs could root for. 

But even the biggest supporters of the Decemberists seemed to perpetually be in the role of apologists, always taking the angle of convincing the hard-headed and stubborn hipster snobs. And even if 2005′s Picaresque was the album to do just that, featuring production from Death Cab’s Chris Walla and the band’s most broadly appealing set of songs yet, the Decemberists promptly split from their indie, Kill Rock Stars, to join the majors, and became surprisingly proggy in the process.

Now, an antiquated sea shanty involving two men conversing from inside a whale is one thing, but prog? The Crane Wife welcomed what had been hinted at with their single-track EP The Tain and the band began talking openly about a love for Yes and Jethro Tull in The Crane Wife’s promotion. The Decemberists proudly became Capitol Records employees, but nothing about their Capitol output speaks to a taming of ideas, a simplification or more accessibility. Instead, they went full-prog and recorded a rock opera, The Hazards Of Love, their most critically questioned work of their still dependable career.

This is the story of a band that had their first No. 1 album on their seventh full-length release, at the point that music culture seemed least interested in them and following their most misguided effort. And this is a story about what gets lost from a lot of the conversations about indie music in the early 2000s, and is true even now. Namely, that the culture breeds loyalty in a way that pop music just couldn’t possibly. Pop music by its nature stays at a distance from its fans, while being a Decemberists fan could feel like real access to real people. Meloy joked about this in an interview, saying, “All the bands I loved growing up never made it past the like 800-capacity clubs. So, as far as I’m concerned I just would so rarely see bands like us — and I don’t even like us anymore. I used to — I like our first couple of records.”

The band has been on a bit of a hiatus following This King Is Dead, for both Colin Meloy wanting to spend time with his family and Jenny Conlee’s recovery from breast cancer treatment. But Meloy has been writing new songs and is touring solo this fall in a tradition where he plays Decemberists songs by himself, sells a new covers EP at the venue, and uses the opportunity to try out his newest compositions. Before we hear those, let’s look at the Decemberists’ 10 best songs so far.

10. “The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid” (from The Hazards Of Love, 2009)

At least one of the Decemberists progressive stoner guitar jams is needed on this list, and the “The Wanting Comes In Wave/Repaid” is probably their best. And truth be told, it is a song better seen than just heard, as it begins buttoned-up and proper before reaching for an anthemic refrain that all seem like the point of the song. Then comes the riff rock. During the Decemberists touring of The Hazards Of Love, they brought along temporary Decemberists Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, both of whom recorded guest vocals for the collection. And on “Repaid” Wordon received the chance to sing lead and blow the minds the Decemberists’ nightly audience, appearing as a barely five-foot ball of psychedelic boom-voice with high knee steps and an occasional karate chop. Props to a band for letting a guest steal the song, the album, and the tour. 

9. “Apology Song” (from 5 Songs EP, 2001)

The sixth track on the 5 Songs EP is aptly titled, as Meloy penned “Apology Song” as a way to beg forgiveness for losing his friend’s bicycle. Originally left on the answering machine of “Steven,” the details in the narrative are relics of Meloy’s past, with “Orange Street Food Farm” and “Frenchtown pond” familiar to few beyond the residents or visitors of Missoula, Montana. Unpredictable, though, must have been how fans would latch on to the spare detail of a “hesher,” a term for a stoner-metal misfit. As a song, the mid-tempo acoustic throwaway resonates for its sweetness more than its humor, as Meloy calls the bike by a woman’s name, “Madeline,” turning “Apology Song” into a standard love song, and finding Meloy adept when working in familiar conventions.

8. “Red Right Ankle” (from Her Majesty The Decemberists 2003)

In a 2007 interview with the AV Club, Colin Meloy is asked why his songs drift toward obscure history, and why he doesn’t just write songs about his girlfriend. Meloy responds that he does write songs both about and for his now-wife, Carson Ellis. Beyond being the inspiration for some key Decemberists songs, Ellis is also important to the band’s story as the illustrator behind their album artwork. “Red Right Ankle” still, isn’t a typical love song, and of course a “gypsy uncle” appears, as does a “hideout in the Pyrenees.” But the last verse, after a lovely accordion breakdown courtesy of Jenny Conlee, that Meloy sings to the boys that loved Ellis, to those that broke her heart and to those whose heart she broke, is a moment of genuine inspiration for Meloy as a songwriter. It’s a territory that love doesn’t want us to explore, considering the past lovers of a current flame, but the maturity and compassion of Meloy in this verse is uncommon and quite beautiful.

7. “California One/Youth And Beauty Brigade” (from Castaways And Cutouts, 2002)

So, while the Decemberists were never cool, we sure tried to make them cool. A Pitchfork live report of a Colin Meloy solo performance — which is impossible to imagine on the site in 2013 — describes an audience that includes Sufjan Stevens, Lou Reed, and David Bowie. And Colin Meloy tries to make that crowd have a fucking singalong. The rendition of “California One/Youth And Beauty Brigade” that Meloy offers in solo sets is traditionally a highlight, with “Ask” from the Smiths tacked on to bring the song to a fitting conclusion. As untouchable as “Ask” is in the alternative canon, it doesn’t upstage Meloy’s originals, but rather gives context, puts Meloy in a tradition of misfit intellectuals, those too concerned with making a mark with something honest and real to be cool. And thankfully Meloy never tried to emulate his hero Morrissey. No one could ever be like Moz, and now, Meloy’s stage persona is also his own, and something impossible to match or replicate.

6.”The Crane Wife Part 1 & 2″ (from The Crane Wife, 2006)

Really, throw “The Crane Wife Part 3″ in and you have a contender for the top three, but as is, the first two movements of “The Crane Wife” serve as the climax of the album of the same name. Yes, the rubbery bass line comes close to biting “The Boy With The Arab Strap,” but the first part of the song is a band growing brave, unafraid of expanding the scale of their music without drifting into proggy genre territory or relying on a gimmick. More importantly, the song provides a few minutes that you can legitimately dance to and not look like an asshole.

5. “Don’t Carry It All” (from The King Is Dead, 2011)

Like “The Crane Wife 1,” “Don’t Carry It All” also bites another popular song, this one the beat and harmonica intro of Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” But in kicking off the most recent full-length from the band, the tone of the collection is set. Gillian Welch can be heard singing backup. R.E.M.’s Peter Buck plays mandolin, a nod to the fact Meloy admits to channeling his R.E.M. love from his youth. When this song first came out, somebody commented on how Meloy’s voice is especially mature-sounding on this track, and now it’s all I notice, with his words keeping his center close to the ground, unshakable. The harmonies add to strength and evoke celebration, joy, and all the other natural byproducts that should be present in a song about gardening.

4. “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” (from Picaresque, 2005)

Convincing someone of the greatness of “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” takes the dedication of both parties, and probably involves the teacher demanding the student pay attention to the lyrics, until finally giving in and summing up the plot as the song progresses. And “plot” is not used lightly here, as it tracks a revenge story over many years as a boy seeks to avenge his mother’s death, ultimately winding up face-to-face with his target in the stomach of a giant whale. The greatest sea shanty ever written? Probably, but “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” has become so much more than that. The song’s performance near the end of Decemberists sets is a ritual at this point, so much so that it was put on hiatus for a while from overplaying. One of their most self-indulgent moments, a song that shows a band to be capable, and even graceful in self-indulgence must be a classic.

3. “The Engine Driver” (from Picaresque, 2005)

The bummer in the creative-writing exercises that Decemberists songs can be, is that Meloy’s use of characters completely foreign to the listener makes him difficult to get a sense of as an artist. If you’ve seen the self-deprecating humorist and charismatic performer that Meloy is, then you base your idea of him on that, but “The Engine Driver” might be one of the best songs in the Decemberists catalog to find Meloy hiding in plain site. The narrative gives brief flashes of seemingly unrelated characters — the titular train operator, the electrical repairman, the banker — all from who knows what time or place but all have reached the same point to be forced to say, “If you don’t love me let me go.” In the chorus, the song’s actual central character is revealed to be the writer, creating stories to deal with his own romantic woes. Even without the surprisingly dense lyrical project, the way that Meloy changes up the way that he sings “trying to rid you from my bones” on the final chorus is as natural and comfortable as his voice can probably get. 

2. “I Was Meant For The Stage” (from Her Majesty The Decemberists 2003)

When you write a song called “I Was Meant For The Stage,” and you end up having a successful career, the song will surely come back to haunt you. It will be the cornerstone of profiles. It will be played off of for half-assed feature titles. It will be the running thread through your big cover story. The imagery of this string-laden ballad evokes the theater, and it is hard to believe that Meloy would be the speaker in the song, but seeing the Decemberists close with this cut at the Hollywood Bowl, backed by a full orchestra, was an emotional experience for all involved, and suddenly a little bit of the sappy sentiment that we’d all like to believe is true in ourselves is actually true in some. It certainly was for Meloy on that night. Of course, some people think the song is a suicide note — and that just really makes it less enjoyable, so fuck that.

1. “On The Bus Mall” (from Picaresque, 2005)

Some of the best Decemberists songs are so ambitious, and successful in their ambition, that it’s hard to explain why “On The Bus Mall” is the best song they have. It’s six minutes long, but doesn’t feel it. Its story is probably more foreign than the usual, unless you have lived the life of a runaway prostituting yourself to survive. And though it is full of minutia and spare jargon, the song stands apart from the rest of the Decemberists’ work. Maybe it’s the arrangement, with a fluttering guitar lead and twinkling accents that puts the band in a contemporary light for the first time. Maybe it’s the unabashed emotion that pours out with each syllable Meloy lets loose. And maybe it is the universal aspects of the words. We’ve all felt love, maybe in the most unlikely of situations, maybe with someone we least suspect. We know the feeling “fusing like a family,” of being “huddled close in the bus stop enclosure enfolding, our hands tightly holding.” And maybe it is the one song that can stand alone without any idea of its meaning, lovely enough to exist as just a beautiful series of sounds. But Meloy’s faith in language and ability to make listeners see themselves in characters from other countries and other centuries, all within the span of a few minutes, is the takeaway. He’s got bigger things on his mind then being cool.

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Comments (87)
  1. I feel like I spend way too much time reading about indie music, but I still don’t really get the first sentence- “Though the current fad is to compartmentalize indie rock of the last decade as something quaint, narrow, and somewhat embarrassing”

    • Whatever was cool a decade ago isn’t cool today. That’s just how the press cycle goes. I bet if you looked up the writers’ past history from 2007, you’d probably find a think piece of his telling readers that we are “living in the golden age of open-minded indie rock progress” or some b.s. that cites Sufjan, the Decemberists and Broken Social Scene as innovators. That’s just the way the vicious cycle works. If you’re unhappy what you read today — Just wait a decade, because you will be told it’s cool again, just like pop-punk bands and emo bands that were falling out of style with critics back in 2001 are suddenly all the rage with your favorite tastemakers.

      That’s what I’ve learned at least upon entering the third decade of my life and having lived through more two phases of indie-minded trend talk.

    • Yeah that struck me as odd too. I think the author was referencing some specific kind of now-possibly-embarrassing genre, but just did it in a weirdly vague generalizing way. Hell, I don’t know. Though I do know that I like talking about something on this site that isn’t Arkade Fire-related. This convinced me to listen to the Crane Wife again, which is always a good thing.

    • Philip Cosores  |   Posted on Sep 12th, 2013 0

      Hey, I guess I was sort of referencing the attitude that was maybe best presented in Chris Deville’s piece on The O.C. Probably would have helped to link that.

      • I think people are confused because your sentence doesn’t make any sense, not because you didn’t link us to another badly-written stereogum article.

        The word compartmentalize is used incorrectly in the sentence. I think you meant to used “condensed” or “distilled” or something similar. Instead you used a word that almost means the opposite. Hence the confusion.

    • People can defend it how they’d like, but the truth is it’s lazy, hack writing. It means nothing. This list and the copy around it is completely arbitrary.

    • Take out “fad” and insert “habit of music journalists who measure bands’ ‘cool points’ rather than listen to music” and it might be a little more accurate.

  2. Perfect choice for #1. “On the Bus Mall” has always been my favorite of theirs.

  3. I feel like this list could use some more Crane Wife in it. But that’s just me.

    Also, I’m glad the formatting is better now, I felt like I was getting yelled at the whole time I was reading this.

  4. Ten is simply not enough.

    “Why don’t you just make 10 louder?”
    “Because, there’s an 11.”

  5. Wow, my list couldn’t look more different (except for two mutual songs). In a chronological order:

    Shiny (5 songs)
    Leslie Anne Levine (Castaways and Cutouts)
    A Cautionary Song (Castaways and Cutouts)
    Billy Liar (Her Majesty The Decemberists)
    Eli, The Barrowboy (Picaresque)
    From My Own True Love (Lost At Sea) (Picaresque)
    The Mariner’s Revenge Song (Picaresque)
    The Island (The Crane Wife)
    Summersong (The Crane Wife)
    The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid (The Hazards of Love)

    • Agreed! The Island should be Top 3. Any musician will tell you its one of their best pieces of work. Yes, it’s prog-y. But dear god, Meloy stands back and lets the real musicians show off on that song.

  6. Any list of best Decemberists songs that doesn’t include “Here I Dreamt I was an Architect” and “The Bagman’s Gambit” is no list I want to be a part of.

    Still, good list.

    • I was just about to write the same thing about “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect.” One of my favorite songs of all time.

    • I never really listened to the Decemberists, but someone made me a mix CD once that had “Architect” on it, and it’s an awesome song. I wasn’t going to say anything since I really have no idea what I’m talking about on this one (what with my one-song knowledge of the band and all), but yeah. Have an upvote.

  7. Maybe it’s the apologist in me, which you referred to, but as time has passed the (relatively) slighter, less dramatic songs have become my favorites. Songs like “Grace Cathedral Hill,” “Isn’t It a Lovely Night?” and “O New England.” I love this list though, and you’re right on #1.

  8. Too little Picaresque, namely “The Infanta” and “16 Military Wives.”

    This totally put The Decemberists on my radar again, though.

  9. No Sixteen Military Wives? That song is the one of theirs that I play most frequently. And yeah, more Crane Wife is always needed. I’d also choose The Tain as the proggy, guitar-y epic of note.

  10. I can agree with this, might have added a bit more Crane Wife though (namely Crane Wife 3). The Decemberists are one of those bands for me that it’s incredibly satisfying to not listen to them for a while and then revisit them every now and then… usually putting them away again because Colin Meloy’s voice can get grating after a while. Don’t get me wrong, I like them a lot, but there’s only so much of Colin’s voice I can take in a given time.

  11. Im way too late t the party, but yeah, needs way more crane wife, which IMO is their best album, though not by much. How is Summersong not in there though?

  12. I never got really into The Decemberists so this isn’t a complaint, but I always really loved the song “O Valencia”. Don’t know enough of their catalogue to know if it’s Top 10 worthy, but it in my abridged version.

  13. I think Record Year shouldve made it into the list, but that’s just me..

  14. Missing:

    Grace Cathedral Hill
    The Sporting Life
    Sons and Daughters
    After the Bombs
    Annan Water
    June Hymn

    Actually, the only songs from Stereogum’s list that would make it onto mine are “California One” and “On the Bus Mall”. Maybe “The Engine Driver”.

    I love The Decemberists, but I’ve never given Her Majesty a full listen. Not sure why that is.

  15. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • You’re welcome to your opinion of course, but I never understood the NMH comparison, whether it’s positive or negative. Castaways and Cutouts might have had some sonic similarities to NMH, maybe, but NMH has always struck me as nakedly, almost hysterically emotional, whereas Decemberists are almost the exact opposite- buttoned up and nerdy.

      • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  16. I’m always annoyed by people who advocate for some obscure B-side on a list like this, but at the risk of hypocrisy — AFTER THE BOMBS!!!

  17. On the Bus Mall is definitely one of my favorites. For it’s raw emotion, just thinking of the arrangement and lyrics makes me weep.

    Missing is “Cocoon” and “The Bachelor and the Bride”. Pretty spot on with the majority of the list there.

  18. “Here I Dreamnt I Was an Architect” & “January Hymn” are pretty baller too..

  19. Wishing “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)” was on this list. That song, with Colin Meloy’s and Laura Veirs’ voices playing off each other, is amazing.

  20. Too many songs to have to cull to a top 10. Loving your take on the list since it’s pretty different than mine—may have to revisit a few of the songs in your top 10 with some of your thoughts on the songs in mind. Thanks!

  21. Grace Cathedral Hall
    The Legionnaire’s Lament
    Here I Dreamt I was an Architect

    One of these three is a must. Only one track from Castaways and Cutouts will not suffice.

    • The Legionnaire’s Lament is definitely my favourite! I kept scrolling — and lamenting — hoping someone would bring up its omission.

  22. I was meant for the stage completely ruined me as some dollar/career chasing college boy when it was released. Ten years later, I’m sitting in a cubical remembering exactly where I took the wrong turn in my life and crying into some shitty coffee mug.

    “Nothing short of fate itself has affected my decision.”

  23. Surprised Rake’s Song didn’t make the cut.

  24. i believe that “The Rake’s Song” and “Shanty for the Arethusa” should be on this list because they were both referenced on “The Simpsons”.

    Seriously, no “Architect”?

  25. No “This Is Why We Fight”?

  26. I got the impression Philip was bending over backwards to explain / apologize for writing a piece about the Decemberists. I’m not ashamed — I love these guys, all the way up to their most recent output.

    • Philip Cosores  |   Posted on Sep 12th, 2013 0

      Hey, I wasn’t trying to explain/apologize as much as just viewing a band that I love through the lens of 2013 music criticism. The way critics and fans view bands changes over time; you get older, trends shift, novelty gets played out. So, in writing about music that is old, I think you do have to justify why it is worth talking about beyond “this sounds good” or “this makes me remember better times.” At home, when I put on the Decemberists, I don’t need to justify it. But, and I might be wrong here, at a major music hub like Stereogum, when you aren’t looking at a band through context and giving a reason for examining, your just making top 10 lists for clicks, and I don’t think that’s what writing is about.

      That said, glad I could write for Stereogum. Long time reader, a real honor, glad you commenters didn’t destroy me.

      • True, but to do one of these best songs or best albums lists, almost by definition you have to write about music that is old, just so that you’re talking about an artist/band/group that’s been around long enough to accumulate enough music to rank.

        I think what it comes down to is, I’m always just slow to pick up on new trends or to let current/old trends go. Also, I’m getting old, you guys.

        This was a fine piece though, Philip. I didn’t mean to knock your writing.

    • Yeah, wait a second… “Rightfully met with sideways glances”??? Ouch!

      • Philip Cosores  |   Posted on Sep 14th, 2013 -1

        Skepticism over bands bringing sea shanties to the table is something that I fully support.

  27. Fans of The Decemberists holding some kind of bitterness; over their song not being picked? Never. I guess the writer didn’t build the right choices (Architect joke). I prefer Picaresque as my whole list. But insight and opinion is what this is! And a well written article it was.

  28. I enjoyed the song write-ups a lot. The Engine Driver is one of my favourite songs in general.

  29. This is a really good list, but its missing one of my personal favorites, “July, July!” Hoping I’m not alone.

  30. Really? Oh well, I guess I should be happy it’s not another Arcade Fire post. I enjoyed what I’ve heard from the Decemberists, so I’ll take the time to properly listen to your list a bit later.

  31. Normally I wouldn’t pile on but I like Decemberists. I don’t love them or even really like them. I just like them, its the same way with the National.

    That being said, I do love “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect”. So Fleetwood Macish. In fact, Ima go listen to it right now.

  32. Gotta have “June Hymn” on there

  33. this doesn’t have ANY of my favorites – “leslie anne levine” and “the bachelor and the bride” are by far my top two

  34. These are my favorites, in no particular order. Except, “Engine Driver” is definitely my all time favorite.

    E. Watson
    Rox in the Box
    Yankee Bayonette
    The Crane Wife 3
    We Both Go Down Together
    The Engine Driver
    July, July!
    Billy Liar
    The Island
    The Infanta

  35. “On The Bus Mall” at #1 – I am vindicated.

    Always enjoyed the song just for the craft, but after seeing My Private Idaho, it finally clicked that I hadn’t been paying attention to the lyrics AT ALL – not that it’s necessarily a direct inspiration, but with a little more perspective, the song absolutely floored me as no Decemberists song had before.

    However, a list without “Oh Valencia”, “16 Military Wives”, OR “July, July” is like an AnCo list without “My Girls” – I mean, just who do you think you’re trying to impress?! You’d think we’d take a little more pride in the fact that indie bands consistently write better pop songs than pop bands.

  36. am i the only one exited to see the unicorns getting a little press. those guys are amazing. jellybones man….jellybones.

  37. It makes me happy that this list even exists. Also, I think the debate over the top 10 songs is a good testament that the band put out a lot of really good songs, and not just a few major singles

  38. Getting this list right is an impossible task. And this one is impossibly wrong.

    • Snark aside, I just have to mention that, having been a fan since their Hush Records days (at least the original release of Castaways and Cutouts), I think the best single song they’ve put together is “Grace Cathedral Hill.” A lot of their more drama-school moments can get in the way of seeing how good of a songwriter Meloy can be on the most basic level, and “Grace Cathedral HIll” is simplicity at its best. Clearly whoever put this list together prefers their more ‘epic’ side, and that’s fine, but in the end, I get way more out of their 2-3 minute pop songs than I do from their big adventure tales.

      • a few years ago the band did a tour playing one night of epic songs and one night of short in each city, so even they know there is a divide. It’d be fun to do two lists.

    • Also, since it’s received no love on this thread yet…. “Valerie Plame”! Holy cow, what a song. Sort of a knock off of “16 Military Wives,” but better, IMHO.

      • Philip Cosores  |   Posted on Sep 15th, 2013 0

        So, “Grace Cathedral Hill,” yes, a great great song. I didn’t consider it too long just because I didn’t have too many open spots after I put in what I thought were the essentials. But yes, it could easily be on a list like this and I wouldn’t object too much. Also, “The Gymnast High Above the Crowd,” “The Bachelor and the Bride,” “Here I Dreamed I Was an Architect,” “Sleepless,” “A Cautionary Song” (which I’m surprised people haven’t mentioned more), “The Soldiering Life,” “The Legionnaires Lament” “The Crane Wife 3″ “Sons and Daughters” “Los Angeles, I’m Yours” “January Hymn” and “The Bagman’s Gambit.” Like many have said, The Decemberists can write a great song and it is impressive how many you could pick out as special. “Valerie Plame,” though fun, isn’t up there for me. Sounds like “Hey Jude” too much at the end and I like both the rain-related songs from those singles better. Worst Decemberists song, besides Dracula’s Daughter, Perfect Crime II.

  39. Good pick at #1!

  40. #1 is perfect, the rest are arbitrary. I feel like you could do a top 25 list and still have a hard time.

  41. Had to come back to tell everyone to watch the ridiculous O Valencia video. Seriously, go check it out.

  42. The Tain. Their proof to the world that they could make cool (what I think is cool, mind you) music all the time if they wanted to. I wish every band would try and release a prog-ish album.

    I also really like “Isn’t it a Lovely Night?” from the Hazards of Love.. great harmonies.

  43. Philip Cosores – By “compartmentalize”, I’m pretty sure you meant condense. If you compartmentalize something, that means you are taking it apart and separating it into different parts that you keep completely separate from one another.

    Even disregarding grammatical errors, I feel like you just don’t know how to listen to music. Like everyone else who writes for Stereogum. I feel like it’s all about what’s cool. Have you ever listened to music and just heard the musicianship and the lyrics without throwing the group into some sort of box?

    Maybe you should try it.

    • Philip Cosores  |   Posted on Sep 17th, 2013 +1

      I could be wrong, but I think I meant compartmentalize. I mean separating indie rock from other music and categorizing it as something quaint (compartment), narrow (compartment), and embarrassing (compartment). Other music from this same era doesn’t really see this same treatment. But anyway, thanks for the writing and listening tips!

      • Indie Rock is already a “compartment” created from the act of compartmentalizing music as a whole. To use a different word, it is a genre. Although, this is arguable, because indie music derives it’s name from the business model it uses, while rock is a fusion of different genres (mainly blues and country western). The term “indie rock”, though, has come to describe something all its own.

        So you are saying that the current fad is to take that one genre of music and split it apart and separate it into further categories — quaint, narrow, and embarrassing. So we have quaint indie rock, narrow indie rock and embarrassing indie rock. Am I following this right? Those are the three compartments that indie rock has been separated into under this new fad?

        Do you see why this is confusing? What about all the other kinds of indie rock? And aren’t all three of those different compartments of indie rock really all talking about the same thing? Like… say… The Decemberists and bands like them?

        I, too, thought maybe you meant to use the word “condensed”, but when I think about it, that doesn’t make much sense either. What exactly are you trying to say?

        • Philip Cosores  |   Posted on Sep 17th, 2013 0

          “Though the current fad is to compartmentalize indie rock of the last decade as something quaint, narrow, and somewhat embarrassing.” The word means to separate and categorize, bud. That’s exactly how I meant it. Substitute “separate and categorize” in and that is what I meant. Also, it is what I said. Thanks for engaging the material so fully, but yeah, I’m just lost at where your difficulty is.Take care.

          • If you compartmentalize indie rock, that means you are dividing up indie rock into separate and isolated categories. And according to your opening sentence, these isolated categories are: Quaint, Narrow, and Embarrassing.

            I’m assuming what you meant is that music is being compartmentalized, and that indie rock is one of those compartments, and that particular compartment is currently being labeled as quaint, narrow, and embarrassing.

            My difficultly stems from trying to read a sentence that isn’t saying what it is trying to mean.

  44. Great band, shit list.

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