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Wednesday, August 20, 2014 
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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
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+ Christina Carter - Electrice
+ The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
+ Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
+ Various Artists - Musics In The Margin
+ Rafael Toral - Space
+ Bob Dylan - Modern Times
+ Excepter - Alternation
+ Chris Thile - How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
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+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
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+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
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+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
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+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
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+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
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+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
+ The Red Krayola - Introduction
+ Metal Hearts - Socialize
+ American Princes - Less And Less
+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
+ Supersilent - 7
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The Decemberists
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The Crane Wife
Capitol
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… As I said before, the cyclic nature of this album's sequencing is insidious.

Let's begin at the end. Here, we find a hopeful chorus of voices enmeshed in "Row, Row, Row Your Boat"-style rounding. The round, finding its fill of aluminum and cinnamon, gives way to a crescendoing chant of "Hear all the bombs fade away." These seemingly simplistic elements lend "Sons & Daughters" an uplifting verisimilitude. Yes, we've had these thoughts before. Would but we could remember where.

"The Crane Wife 1 and 2" begins the cycle from which the album takes its name, based on a Chinese folktale about a peasant who pulls an arrow from the wing of a crane. Unbeknownst to this fellow, the crane later comes back to him in the form of a woman. They get married, but are poor, so she weaves beautiful cloth to support them. One day, the man peeks into the loom room (which he promised not to do). There, he sees his wife as a crane, bleeding, feathers pulled from her skin to make the cloth. Thus, her secret discovered, his wife flies away, never to be seen again. A story tailor-made for the Decemberists, it would seem.

Drawing from this rich material, Meloy & Co. do not disappoint. The Crane Wife is an impressively realized song cycle. The title tracks are propulsive; rolling instrument lines keep the momentum hurtling forward, each segment gradually building to an emotional climax, where it then falls off, only to be rebuilt. On account of this unflinching intensity, it feels more epic than anything they've done before.

"Summersong" has a sound reminiscent of "Shiny" (from the 5 Songs EP). "Shankhill Butchers" evokes something more along the lines of "A Cautionary Tale" (from Castaways and Cutouts) or "Eli, the Barrow Boy" (from Picaresque). "O Valencia!" is another tried-and-true, Decemberists-style single. Whether it's the wordplay and accordion in "Summersong," or tale of bloodstained love in "O Valencia!," these familiar sounds help ground the album. What's more, the throwbacks serve to underscore the newer, more divergent material, thereby fomenting comparison.

As far as pre-buzz has gone, two cuts have inspired vehement reactions from the faithful: "When the War Came" and "The Perfect Crime #2." "Abysmal," they say. Well, I say they are wrong. The funked-out organ and bass riffs on "The Perfect Crime #2" are undeniably catchy. Whenever you listen to this song, you cannot help but feel cooler. Just yesterday, in fact, I was walking down Magnolia Street toward City Park and the song came on in my headphones. Immediately, my chest puffed up and there was a renewed purpose to my step. I cast a confident gaze over my surroundings with a smile. Leave it to the Decemberists to make thievery sound both easy and fun (until it all comes horribly undone at the end). Oh the plots of men.

"When the War Came" is a protest song. Less pointed, perhaps, than "Sixteen Military Wives," but the implication is clear enough. "With all the grain of Babylon to cultivate to make us strong… A terrible autonomy has grafted onto you and me. A trust put in the government who told their lies as heaven-sent…"

ASIDES 2 and 3: Capitol Records didn't send me an advance copy of the album in time to write this review. Thus, I was forced to preview the leaked copy at mtvU. So my quotations may or may not be completely accurate. Capitol, don't complain — simply be more prompt next time.

Is this an allusion to foreign powers who meddle in Mesopotamia? I'll let you decide.

ASIDE 1: Most likely the strong reaction to these two songs is due to the fact that they are more electrified, loud, and rocking than a majority of the Decemberists canon. It's an old story: people don't deal well with change. Either they'll come around to the songs or they won't. I have no more to say on this matter.

"Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)" is a lovely duet with Laura Veirs. Civil War love and death might be expected fodder for Colin Meloy, but the addition of Veirs' voice demonstrates the strength of his songwriting. She takes the words and makes them her own. It's one thing to have Meloy's voice contorting around his own phrasing, but quite another to have a new voice dealing with his authorship. There isn't even a hint of awkwardness though; her voice melds so well that she doesn't sound like an outsider.

"The Island: Come & See/The Landlord's Daughter/You'll Not Feel the Drowning" is the longest song on the album, clocking in at over 12 minutes. Murder, abduction, and rape all play a role in this tale. Though the storyline might not be the most cohesive, the arrangement is one of the most involved the Decemberists have ever attempted. Replete with organ/synth interludes and multiple melodies, it takes numerous listens to fully process all that's going on, but the song is better for its complexity.

And finally, we come to "The Crane Wife 3" — the heartbroken aftermath of parts 1 and 2. Sounds like where we began. I want to play the whole thing again. But time and journalism being what they are, we cannot go back. OK then… let's end at the beginning.

I'll probably say it again, but the cyclic nature of this album's sequencing is insidious…



by Sam Ernst




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