Red Letter Day

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Crane Wife

The Decemberists are known for their songs in a theatrical and historic vein, and generally you need to have a dictionary handy when you listen to them due to lead singer Colin Meloy's expansive vocabulary (has any other artist ever had a a lyrical couplet like "Oh, what a rush of ripe élan / Languor on divans")

Anyway, their newest album The Crane Wife, which is not due out until October 3rd, has made it onto the Internet and it is excellent. I have been listening to it pretty much non-stop for the past week and it sounds like a mix of Castaways and Cutouts and The Tain. The album is not quite a theme record, but it comes close. It is based on a Japanese folk tale called "The Crane Wife" (duh!) about a man who marries a beautiful woman who is really a bird but he must never find out her secret or tragedy will result (and of course does).

The album has several tracks dealing with the scourge of war, including "When the War Came" about the preparations and sad/heady anticipation of war, the stirring "Yankee Beyonet" which is a love song by the pregnant wife of a dead Confederate soldier, and "Valencia" which concerns the protagonist's girlfriend (named Valencia), shot down in gang warfare or some kind of blood feud. If this wasn't enough, there's also "The Shankill Butchers" about an Irish thug gang which preyed on Catholics in 1960s Ireland.

If all the war and killing get you down, you can listen to the happy, poppy "Summersong," but the real meat of the album is the three tracks making up the Crane Wife story, and the log and (I think) related "The Island, Come and See, The Landlord's Daughter; You'll Not Feel the Drowning" which is a Tain-like twelve-minute composition about (apparently) the rape of a beautiful rich young woman by a poor fisherman.

If you are a Decemberists fan, you need to run, not walk to your nearest source of Internet music and listen to this album. (You will,of course, buy it on October 3rd when it comes out, that goes without saying.)


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