… As I said before, the cyclic nature of this album's sequencing is
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
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
"Shankhill Butchers" evokes something more along the lines of "A Cautionary
Tale" (from Castaways and Cutouts
) or "Eli, the Barrow Boy" (from
). "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
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
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