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The Decemberists Love Their Strings

Posted in Rock,The Decemberists by M on July 20, 2007

As part of my mandatory indie rock education, I went on a Decemberists downloading spree!

Most of my selections were live tracks. And while I didn’t expect the band to appeal to me, I was having trouble figuring out how the band could appeal to anyone. The Decemberists barely seemed to be a band at all. Nearly every track featured lead singer Colin Meloy belting his preposterous lyrics over top of the Braveheart soundtrack—it was nothing but orchestra!

Colin Meloy of the Decemberists and Mel Gibson in Braveheart

Luckily I’m not the only one who identified The James Horner Band as a concern. Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune writes a spot-on assessment of their live performance:

The Decemberists have gradually recognized over four albums that they’re not just a precocious little vehicle for Meloy’s cleverly constructed songs, but a rock band. Yet when the orchestra roared, bassist Nate Query, guitarist Chris Funk and keyboardist Jenny Conlee were swallowed up by the wall of sound, and it essentially became the Meloy-with-strings show. Only drummer John Moen was able to make his presence felt.

This would be forgivable if the orchestra was any good. Instead the arrangements are derivative from film scores, and even the few curveballs thrown into the orchestration come across more like John Barry’s James Bond stings. To match that The Decemberists would need to add a steel guitar riff.

My live cut of “The Perfect Crime #2” gave the orchestra a break, allowing the band to show some playfulness and a little bit of rhythm. There’s a pulse there! The Decemberists should check it more often.

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