The Decemberists

Over the Weekend (Sept. 14 Edition)

New music, videos, and other news to help you kick off the week…

This week we have quite a few videos to share, and not much else, so it should be pretty easy for our readers to have fun while expending a minimum of effort.  First, we recommend that fans of The Black Keys take a look at The Arcs, the latest side-project from Dan Auerbach.  The new group recently released their album Yours, Dreamily… and last week put out a psychedelic video for their song “Outta My Mind”, which recalls the recent work of Dan’s main gig, if a little more playful in tone.

Speaking of side-projects, Matt Berninger (frontman of The National) and Brent Knopf (Ramona Falls, formerly of Menomena) have joined forces to record as EL VY, and the results they have shared so far are interesting to say the least.  Their album Return to the Moon is not set to be released until October 30, but for now enjoy Matt having some fun in SoCal with the slinky “I’m The Man To Be”.

Albert Hammond, Jr. of The Strokes is promoting his third solo album, Momentary Masters, and for the video of “Caught By My Shadow” he pays a bit of homage to The Seventh Seal with his chess battle with death.  However, viewers are unlikely to confuse it with the Bergman classic, considering Hammond’s version involves way more special effects.

If you are still in the mood for something strange, be sure to watch Viet Cong’s latest video from their self-titled debut, “Bunker Buster”, which features some bizarre visuals and a sci-fi storyline.

The premiere of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was the biggest news in entertainment last week, and among the memorable moments from the show’s first week was this amazing performance by Kendrick Lamar of a medley of songs from To Pimp a Butterfly.  Be sure also to tune in on Tuesday night, when Run the Jewels are set to perform with TV on the Radio.

Apparently The Decemberists were even more productive during their hiatus, as in addition to this year’s What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World, the band is set to release the EP Florasongs on October 9.  The band gives a taste of what to expect with the song “Why Would I Now?”

And finally, if you are looking for something to satisfy your desire for lists, you might check SPIN’s look back to 1995 with their list of “The 95 Best Alternative Rock Songs of 1995”.

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Catching Up On The Week (Mar. 20 Edition)

Some #longreads as you enjoy the first day of spring…

Most of the music world spent this week dissecting and analyzing Kendrick Lamar’s new album To Pimp A Butterfly, a record that will singlehandedly keep the thinkpiece industry afloat for the next several months.*  We are going to be judicious in our selection of Kendrick-related material to link to in the near-future, but we imagine that this piece from Stereogum highlighting the important contributors to the record should be worth your while.  We cannot offer the same judgment for Rolling Stone’s upcoming cover story, since the magazine has only released this short preview.

However, Rolling Stone does have an extensive interview with M.I.A., revolving mainly around the ten year anniversary of her debut album, Arular.  As is the case with most interviews with M.I.A., this feature goes all over the place and explores a variety of topics, in alternately entertaining and confounding ways.

Speaking of ten year anniversaries, Stereogum has a profile on Picaresque from The Decemberists.  It’s an uneven essay, with an oddly revisionist bent about the music scene from the previous decade, though it does take the time to acknowledge how this was the beginning of the influential band’s musical peak.

Earlier this week we shared one introductory course in understanding Modest Mouse, and today we have another courtesy of the AV Club.  Unlike the Consequence of Sound piece which focused on songs, Primer focuses on the essential Modest Mouse albums and examining them in context.

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

The Decemberists have returned from the longest absence of their career with an album that is the perfect encapsulation of their evolution to this point.  What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World splits the difference of the sprawling, proggy The Hazards of Love and the return-to-our-roots folk-rock of The King Is Dead, but does not necessarily feel like a compromise between the two versions of the band.  The combination results in an album that is filled with wonderful, catchy moments that are meticulously crafted and brilliantly arranged, making full use of the band’s instrumental prowess in creating gorgeous, digestible songs.  In other words, no overlong multi-part epics, but no stripped-down basics either.

Many critics have emphasized the lyrics in their reviews, which is an understandable approach considering the band’s hyper-literate reputation were what brought fans on board in the first place.  On What a Terrible World, the focus is less on 18th century peasant life or swashbuckling sailors, trading in allegory and metaphor for more direct commentary on personal topics like love and growing up, a noticeable shift in the band’s lyrical technique.  This is why when Colin Meloy seemingly makes a song into meta-commentary as he does with the opener “The Singer Addresses His Audience”, the critics focus on lines about selling out for Axe commercials, instead of remarking on the fantastic build into the song’s climax, anchored by a thundering performance by John Moen.  However, it is the band’s less-recognized musical prowess that carries the album and deserves more attention, with each member making vital contributions on a multitude of instruments.

Though the band doesn’t indulge in individual songs that are the kind of multi-genre exercises that characterized albums like The Crane Wife, they do stretch out over the course of the album.  Sometimes the explorations misfire, as in the accordion swamp-stomp of “Anti-Summersong” that unfortunately brings back nightmares of that godawful Kongos song from last summer.*  Thankfully, those moments are rare, and the listener can enjoy instead when The Decemberists recall the gothic Americana of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Howl era with songs like “Carolina Low”, or revel in the bright horns of the rousing “Cavalry Captain” that are reminiscent of Guster.  Though these deviations are welcome, it’s when the band goes back to their wheelhouse of rousing folk-rock that the band truly shines, as they do on their first single–“Make You Better” may not only be the album’s highlight, but once the song hits that climax after the guitar solo, it may possibly the best moment of their career.

What a Terrible World, What A Beautiful World is a bit too long at fifty-three minutes, sagging at around the three-quarters mark, though considering their previous absence it is understandable that the band felt that they had to leave in as much material as possible.  Despite the lull, the album still finishes with a flourish due to the touching “12/17/12” and the uplifting “A Beginning Song”, leaving the listener far from disappointed after that slight setback.  What a Terrible World represents some of the best of The Decemberist’s late-era work–they have combined the instrumental adventurousness of The Hazards of Love while learning to rein in its potential excesses by keeping a song-based focus as they did on The King Is Dead.  It may not seem like a risky move, but it was an incredibly tricky maneuver and The Decemberists pulled it off beautifully.

*It’s a damn shame that this is my first instinct to reference, considering I grew up in an area where zydeco was a significant part of the culture.

Catching Up On The Week (Jan. 16 Edition)

A few #longreads as you prepare for the new year to begin in earnest…

Amid a crowded field of new releases next week, the long-awaited return of Sleater-Kinney stands out from the rest as indie rock fans welcome the return of the beloved 90’s band.  So it’s no surprise that the band is getting write-ups in most music publications this week, including Pitchfork, Grantland, and Nylon.  We’re probably missing other tributes as well, but we’ll try to make up for it by linking to their performance on Letterman last night.

Another new release that we can’t wait to hear comes from another Pacific NW favorite, as The Decemberists return next week with What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World.  The Oregonian looks at how the band helped shape the Portland music scene over the past fifteen years, which while giving the city a new national profile also riles up some locals, as evidenced by a few of the comments.

One upcoming new release that we’ve neglected to mention before is the latest record from Belle and Sebastian.  In order to rectify this, here is Pitchfork’s insightful musical influence feature “5-10-15-20” with the band’s leader, Stuart Murdoch.

Diffuser is taking a look at “The Roots of Indie”, and their latest installment examines the history of the Violent Femmes, one of the most unique successes in rock history.

And finally, a small dose of light scientific reading for your weekend, as NPR takes a look at why some cultures respond to musical cues in different ways.

Over the Weekend (Nov. 24 Edition)

Some videos and other fun as you prepare for the big holiday this week…

This weekend marked the twentieth anniversary of Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy album, and there were retrospectives from both Billboard and Stereogum.  Both do a great job of talking about how the album was a turning point for the band, and how though it’s a respected effort, it’s still underrated.  I was inspired by these pieces to listen to the remastered version of the album that was released a couple of years ago, and it adds a whole new level to the record.

Our favorite new music video comes courtesy of hometown heroes Red Fang, which should be no surprise, considering their track record of great videos.  This time for “Crows In Swine” they prove that their brilliance extends even into the realm of animation.

We previously shared the lyric video for the new song from The Decemberists, and now we can link to the official music video for “Make You Better”.  It features Nick Offerman guest-starring as the host of a lost television show from the 70’s, with The Decemberists providing a goofy performance.

Rolling Stone has been publishing a ton of Foo Fighters-related material, and one of the coolest pieces they’ve done is a list of various cameos that Dave Grohl has done for various albums and performances.

Last week Sebadoh stopped by the AV Club for their Undercover series, and they performed Rush’s “Limelight”.  Personally, I feel that the band balances between taking it seriously and having fun with it, but half of my enjoyment may have been due to the various Rush fans in the comments getting offended by Lou Barlow’s ridiculous vocals.

TV on the Radio hit the Late Show with David Letterman last week to perform “Happy Idiot”, and it’s obvious that as the band hits the road in support of Seeds this is going to be a definite highlight of their set.

Speaking of late night performances, Cold War Kids went on Conan to play “All This Could Be Yours” and delivered a passionate performance of their latest single.

Before there was The Shins there was Flake Music, and Sub Pop is reissuing the only record of the predecessor band.  NPR has it up for streaming for your pleasure.  Elsewhere on their site, be sure to check out this video talking about the special way in which musicians’ brains work.

Over the Weekend (Nov. 3 Edition)

News and new videos as you adjust to the terrifying new era of reverting back from daylight savings…

The Decemberists have announced that they will release a new album early next year, entitled What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World.  And so we don’t come away with only this announcement, the band also provided us with a new song, “Make You Better”, complete with a “visualizer” video.

Prince performed on Saturday Night Live this past weekend, eschewing the normal two song/~four minute blocks for one eight-minute mega-jam.  It was a memorable performance, and not just for Prince’s third-eye sunglasses or his backing 3rdEyeGirl group.  At the very least, we learned that Prince has spent some time listening to Pantera.

Cymbals Eat Guitars recently uploaded the music video for “Warning”, off their excellent new album LOSE, featuring a very young band (Crosshair) playing the part of CEG.  If you never got the chance to pick up their stellar debut Why There Are Mountains, wait another week for the reissue.

Spoon helped end The Daily Show’s run in Austin in style, playing multiple tracks off their latest excellent album, They Want My Soul.  We would embed the videos here, but Comedy Central uses a screwy system, so either go to The Daily Show website or find all three performances on Pitchfork, since they did the legwork to get the correct plug-in.

Nirvana fans may be intrigued by the recent discovery of a “sound collage” that Kurt Cobain created, illustrating more of a connection with a band like The Olivia Tremor Control than one would have suspected.  Note: this sounds nothing like Nirvana, but have fun with it anyway.  Update: An interview with Cobain’s girlfriend at the time, Tracy Marander, sheds some light on the recording, including that there are two versions of “Montage of Heck” and that Nirvana diehards had known of this for years, and in fact a copy had been circulating for some time.

Wilco had some fun on The Tonight Show last week, though not all the footage was aired during the show.  Check out this acoustic version of the classic Yankee Hotel Foxtrot track “I’m the Man That Loves You”.

And finally, to wrap up our coverage of bands that played on late night last week, there’s The Flaming Lips in full costume performing “With A Little Help From My Friends” (with their “fwends”), and Run The Jewels blasting “Early” with a Halloween-appropriate performance on Letterman.