Archive for the ‘The Decemberists’ Category


letitbeI had posted about this record back in 2009.  This is what I write nearly ten years ago, and I’m pretty okay with it.

This is the final album the Replacements made before they moved to the majors.  This disc represents the culmination of their pre-major label sound and is one of my favorite “college albums” of the era.

The disc retains a lot of their sloppy/punk sound of the time, but the songwriting moves forward a little further.  Westerberg wrote some timeless anthems for this disc (“I Will Dare,” “Unsatisfied”).   But, they also sprinkle the disc with silly tracks…not filler exactly…more like balance.  This keeps the disc from being too ponderous.

“I Will Dare” opens the disc. It is bouncy and poppy with an irresistible chorus.   But the bulk of the album is faster and more rocking.  Unlike on their their first two discs, however, the songs run a little bit longer, and they don’t attempt the hardcore feel quite as much.

In fact, there are a few songs that are quite clearly ballads.  “Androgynous” is a piano ballad (!) that could have easily been written by Tom Waits.  “Unsatisfied” is another ballad, although this one has more instrumentation.  Nevertheless, the feeling of yearning is palpable in Westerberg’s voice.  Finally, “Answering Machine” is another flanged-guitar filled song about romance in the age of modern technology (circa 1984).

These relatively light (musically, not emotionally) songs are balanced out quite nicely by the pair of punk/nonsense songs: “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” and “Gary’s Got a Boner.”  They add some (more) levity to the disc.  As well as some rocking guitars.

But perhaps the most surprising song is the cover of Kiss’ “Black Diamond.”  It is surprisingly faithful to the original, (at a time when Kiss was not even ironically cool) and it rocks just as hard.

This album showcases the diverse aspects of The Replacements perfectly.  While some people say their next album Tim is their masterpiece, I am more inclined to go with Let It Be.  And, for some reason, I really like the cover.

[READ: July 1, 2016] Let It Be

I have often thought I should read this series.  Of course, the last time I thought about it, there were 50-some books in the series and that seemed like way too many.  Well as of June 2017, there are 120 books in the series, which is an insane series to jump into.

But at work, four of the books came across my desk and if that’s not an invitation to read something, I don’t now what is.  So I’ve decided to read these four and we’ll see if that leads to more.

This was an interesting book to start with because it really set the tone for the series, by which I mean, as far as I can tell, anything goes.

Colin Meloy (this was written when The Decemberists were just starting to get a buzz around them.  In fact he references his girlfriend who is now his wife) makes this a very personal account about his childhood and his exposure to this album (and others) from his uncle.  So this book is a lot more about (young) Colin and his friend than the ‘Mats, but it’s obvious that the ‘Mats made Meloy who he is.   There’s very little in the way of production information or “research” (until the end).  Rather, it’s just a good story–from a future storyteller. (more…)


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[ATTENDED: April 14, 2017] The Decemberists

Two years ago Sarah and I went to The Decemberists concert at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. It was spectacular.  A great venue, a dignified crowd and a great set deign.  The only complaint we had at all was that we couldn’t stand up and dance (well, we could, but we try to be considerate of those around us).

We knew we’d want to see them again, so when they announced another show in Philly–this time at the Fillmore, we were super psyched.  We love the venue, the sound is great and best of all, you can dance.

I was telling Sarah that I have become spoiled by smaller venues like Union Transfer, which holds about 1,000 fewer people than the Fillmore, because I can get up really close.  Well, this show was sold out big time (we were packed in a little too tightly for my liking).  I wanted to try to get there as early as possible, but a few things led us to getting there about ten minutes later than I had hoped.  And as such we were just a little too far out for my liking–the tall people seemed to have a wall set up about five rows of people ahead of us and we just couldn’t break through it.

So that meant a lot of leaning side to side depending on who you wanted to watch and, of course, terrible pictures.  But wow did they sound great.  This tour was a little less elaborate than the previous one. There was no real “set,” just lights.  And that’s fine because the focus was on the music! (more…)

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[ATTENDED: April 14, 2017] Julien Baker

I first heard Julien Baker from All Songs Considered.  Her song “Sprained Ankle” is simply beautiful.  She plays a very delicate guitar and on that song you can barely hear her voice–everything is very gentle.

I was intrigued when I saw that she was opening for The Decemberists, but I wasn’t entirely sure how much I’d like a whole set of such mellow music.  But Bob Boilen has said on many occasions that you need to see her live.

And that proved to be true.

Her set started quietly with a new song, “Funeral Pyre” and then the incredibly pretty harmonics (looped) of “Funeral Pyre.”   But she wasn’t all about delicate folksiness.  Because on a few of these songs she belted out powerful notes–signing loud and hard and letting those notes linger for a long time.  Her voice was absolutely amazing.  And for just a “girl with a guitar,” she won the audience over pretty easily. (more…)

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lastman1 SOUNDTRACK: BLACK PRARIE-Tiny Desk Concert #262 (January 14, 2013).

blakcpBlack Prarie is 3/5 of the Decemberists (that seems like a hint directed at Colin Meloy, ha ha).  No actually they are a kind of folk-country band “started by Chris Funk and Nate Query, who wanted an outlet for some of their rootsy, mostly instrumental string-band wanderings.”  Jenny Conlee from the band has also joined on accordion.  That leaves Annalisa Tornfelt’s who sings “sweetly countrified vocals and [plays] violin.” I feel a little bad for the other guys in the band who are not mentioned, but I don’t know their names either.

They play three songs.  “Dirty River Stomp” is a fun instrumental with prominent accordion in the beginning and then a banjo solo and then a violin solo.  It is indeed a big stomping song.   I love the way the song sounds like it has built to an ends but there is a small accordion coda tacked on.

For “Nowhere Massachusetts” there’s a switch from banjo to guitar.  The opening section of the song sounds so much like Guster’s “Careful” that I was sure that’s what song this was.  But indeed, it is not and it goes in a very different direction after that intro.  Coincidentally, Guster also has a song that about Massachusetts (“Homecoming King”).  But this sounds really nothing like Guster once the song starts—there’s accordion and slide guitar and fiddle and of course the vocal melody is very different.

Jenny introduces “Richard Manuel” with “We’re gonna rock this out.  We’re gonna bring it.”  It turns out to be a fairly slow, quiet song.  But with some intense lyrics.  And again there is some great accordion work on this track.

As the show fades out there is much excitement about tote bags, although I’m not sure who is getting what.

[READ: December 15, 2016] LastMan 1

This is the final series of older First Second books that I hadn’t read yet.  I brought home this book 1, some time ago, but when I saw that there were six volumes and that they’d all be released relatively quickly, I figured I’d just wait until they were all out and read them closer together.

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

The art is black and white (and grayscale) and the characters are what I can only describe as very French looking. The faces are very minimal, with some of them looking almost bleached out but for eyes and a mouth.  Some of the men are rather grotesque-looking while the one woman is a knockout.  (The book is safe for younger teens, with just a cleavage and an underwear shot, although the whole book is about fighting).

So the story is a little confusing (at least in Book 1).  The main plot is not at all confusing, but the context is never given, so we must try to piece it all together,

Set in an unamed village, the 184th annual Tournament of the Realm is coming up.  We first meet young Adrian who is practicing for his first competition tomorrow.  His teacher is Mr Janesen (with a full head of blond hair and a goatee) and while he is hard on them, he seems fair.  He tries to get Adrian to really harness his powers for the battle. (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: KELLY HOGAN-Tiny Desk Concert #222 (June 4, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

kelly-hoganI know Kelly Hogan as an amazing back up singer.  She sang with The Decemberists when I saw them live (and she was truly amazing).  She also often sings with Neko Case.

I was pretty excited to hear her Tiny Desk because her voice is really beautiful.

Around this time 2012 she had released an album of songs written by all kinds of people.

“Haunted” is a catchy, bouncy number and her three musicians play along effortlessly.  She encourages everyone to sing along to the “na na na na na” part.

When the song ends she thanks every one “very much for coming to the lunchroom talent show.”

“Plant White Roses” was written by Stephen Merritt and it “is really sad” (and since it was written by Merritt you know it’s really sad). The song is pretty, but it was during this song that the Concert transformed into more of a country show.  Hogan even puts an accent on her voice to make it sound more country.  It’s pretty fascinating to witness.

The third part of the song really perks things up.

“I Like to Keep Myself in Pain” was written by Robyn Hitchcock.  She says it came from one of the many conversations they have had over the years.  This song has an even more country feel, especially towards the end.

So all in wall while Hogan’s voice is pretty fantastic and she herself is very charming, I guess I prefer her as an amazing backing vocalist (and sometimes co-lead vocalist) singing music I really like rather than the more country leanings of her own music.

[READ: December 10, 2016] “Two Minutes, Five Minutes, Ten”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

Sometimes, putting a story out of sequence is a gimmick.  But if it’s written well, the gimmick really brings the story to life.

This story is out of sequence, but beyond that, it is also full of possibility.

It opens with a statement about the future: “In two minutes, give or take, she will be running as fast as she can.” (more…)

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may5SOUNDTRACK: SAINTSENECA-Tiny Desk Concert #377 (July 29, 2014).

saintsenecaLike Highasakite, Saintesenca is another band who plays instruments that are unusual (and whose Tiny Desk Concert is way too short).  But before the music started, I was fascinated by the hair of the band.  Zac Little’s head is partially shaved and he beard  is unshaven, but he also has an incredible mustache.  It’s so thick I couldn’t see his mouth moving when he started singing!  There’s also the co-lead singer, Maryn Jones’ hair which is equally fascinating.

And there’s also their instruments.  On the album, they play: banjo, baglama, bulbul, balalaika, bowed banjo, baritone ukulele, bass and bouzouki as well as a stomp box.  For the first song, “Happy Alone,” In this set there is a baglamas (played by Jones), while Little plays a Paul McCartney style bass.  There’s also drums and electric and acoustic guitars.

And their music is fantastic “Happy Alone” has a kind of Decemberists vibe.  There’s a great chorus (and two acoustic guitars accompanying).  The melody is catchy but by the time it comes around a second or third time, it’s a total ear worm.

Between songs they talk about the stompbox.  It’s a roughly 2’x2′ plywood floorboard meant for pounding the beat. The blurb says that “at a show just before this Tiny Desk Concert… Little put his boot right through that floorboard.”  There’s a hole in the box which Jones seems concerned about falling through.  The box also explains why Jones and Little both seem so outrageously tall at this show.

On “Fed Up with Hunger” Little plays a four-stringed guitar (I wish they would say what all of these instrument are).  He plays some wonderfully elaborate chords on it.  Jones sings lead in a very high-pitched delicate voice.  There’s an electric guitar added for the chorus but for the most part this is a stripped down song with some lovely harmonies in the end section.

The final song “Blood Bath” has three distinct parts and it is awesome.  Jones plays bass, Little plays acoustic and the other acoustic guitarist  plays a tiny triangular instrument (a balalaika?).  Little sings in a kind of broken falsetto.  After the first slow verse the whole band kicks in and the song really takes off.  But soon after, the whole band seems to deconstruct the song, playing a few seconds of utter noise before coming back in and following it with a really fast rocking and equally catchy section.  It’s pretty awesome.

I’m going to have to look for more from them.

[READ: May 5, 2008] “Them Old Cowboy Songs”

I was looking through older stories and saw that I had not finished a story by Proulx which was written in a June issue of the New Yorker in this ame year.  How did she ever get two stories within a month of each other?  (And they’re both really really long, too).

This story is dark. Very dark and brutal.  It is set in 1885 and looks at a young couple trying to make it out in the wilderness

Archie is a sixteen year old who lies and says he is 21 to try to get better jobs.  He works a cowboy in Dakota Territory.  In addition to being a hard worker, he is a consummate singer with a golden voice.  He marries a young girl (14), named Rose whose parents don’t approve of him or of her getting married at 14, and they settle in.  The narrator notes: “There is no happiness like that of a young couple in a little house they have built themselves in a place of beauty and solitude.” (more…)

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nimonaSOUNDTRACK: HEY MARSEILLES-Tiny Desk Concert #85 (October 17, 2010).

heymaI knew Hey Marseilles from NPR’s coverage of the 2013 Newport Folk Festival.  But I guess I forgot what they sounded like because I wasn’t expecting this at all.

“Rio” opens with almost flamenco clapping and then the full band–accordion, bowed cello, trumpet, violin and guitar come forth (this must have been chamber music month at the Tiny Desk).  There’s a kind of shanty feel to the song.  The middle section has more clapping (and loud Hey Hey!s) and a trumpet solo (played with a mute).  It is super catchy.

“From a Terrace” starts out slowly, with strings.  It has a bit of a Decembersists feel in the vocal melody.  There’s a middle section with a wheezy accordion solo that transfers to a new section and then another rather jazzy muted trumpet solo.

“To Travels And Trunks” has a beautiful string melody to open.  It is a story song and it flows wonderfully.

[READ: July 25, 2015] Nimona

Sarah brought this book home although she didn’t remember what inspired her to get it.  I liked the look of it and was happy to read it before it had to go back.

The drawing style is quite compelling to me–quite unlike other comic books.  I also loved that the title character was a young girl with crazy hair and a body type that is not, shall we say, sexy and superheroy.  That was quite a nice change of pace.

The one thing I didn’t love about the book was the text.  It was hand written and, dare I admit my age, felt like very small print to me.  It was not an easy on the eyes read.  But maybe that made me focus on it more, because I really got into it.

The story begins in a fairly simple way.  Nimona, a young girl, goes to visit the villain Ballister Blackheart.  She says she is a fan of his work and wants to work with him.  He says no. Then she changes into a shark and he decides that she might be quite useful (I loved that chapter one was two pages).  In Chapter 2 Nimona proves to be a far more ruthless individual than Blackheart–changing his minor evil plans into a plan where the whole village is burnt to the ground.

And then we get a flashback.  In a joust we see Blackheart fighting against a pretty blond man named Ambrosious Goldenloin (the names are awesome).  Blackheart won, but Goldenloin, upon losing, somehow exploded Blackheart’s arm, rendering him incapable of being a knight and thus forcing him into a life of villainy.

And then story proceeds apace with Blackheart being the kind of villain who follows the “rules.”  “Killing solves nothing, Nimona.  It’s vulgar it’s messy.”  But Nimona wants no part of that.  She immediately slays a couple of guards and everyone is shocked.  Then she sets off the self destruct button and is apparently killed.

But of course she isn’t and her reveal is hilarious.  Blackheart wants to know more about her and her incredible powers and she tells a story about rescuing a witch.  Blackheart is dubious (“really, turn the six-year-old into a dragon, that was her idea?”).   The later scene where she shape shifts into him and mocks him “SSCCIEEEENCE” is very funny too–Stevenson gets a comic tone perfectly.

Then we look into the world of Goldenloin and the Institution and it turns out that they are a pretty corrupt organization.  They are working with jaderoot–a poisonous substance which they have banned.  So Blackheart decides to try to use this to his advantage (which involves an apple saleslady named Tabitha).

I loved that although the story seems medieval with knights and dragons, it is set in a slighty futuristic times with phone screen and pagers and such.  They even go to a science expo where a Dr Blitzmeyer has created a fascinating orb which glows of its own power (she is wonderfully clueless).

Since the Institution owns the media, Blackheart is in trouble for things that the Institution has done (the jaderoot).  And soon also the Institution is done with Goldenloin–he is too good for them and his services are no longer needed.  So he is de-knighted.  When Blackheart and Goldenloin briefly meet they have a chance to revisit their joust.

But in the meantime, the Institution has captured Nimona and she is angry (and much more powerful than anyone realized).

I really enjoyed this book a lot.  I loved that Blakcheart was actually a nice guy as a villain–that’s always an enjoyable premise.  I enjoyed the way this story escalated from a simple shape-shifting concept into this apocalyptic setting.  And I really enjoyed the underlying feelings between Blackheart and Goldenloin (whatever they may actually be).  The ending was really rather sweet.

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