Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

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    Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    Killer show the other night at HoB.  They are one of my current favorite bands and have been for a few years since I first heard '16 Military Wives' off the Picaresque LP. A friend referred to them as a 21st century Jethro Tull, and while that's a fair moniker, it only scratches the surface.  Fitting, since in spite of a few singles, their songs are best heard, IMO, within the context of full albums.

    I guess they could be considered an acquired taste, but much easier if you have a thing for 19th century literature, british folk music and the occasional sea shanty or two.  But the more I listen, the more I like; the more I like, the more I respect what they're trying to do in bringing such diverse musical influences together into something genuinely new and interesting.  And The Decemberists are anything but boring.

    Their albums keep getting better, but "The Crane Wife" might still be my favorite.  It's based upon an obscure Japanese folk tale and sounds literally like a story being recited over a long journey or sea voyage.  It veers from moody dirge to joyous hymnal to plaintive ballad to flat-out rock and roll and rewards multiple listenings. 

    I've only heard half of their newest disc, "The King Is Dead" (homage to The Smiths...?), released a couple of weeks ago, but judging by that and the new songs I heard this weekend, they seem to be embracing more of the american folk- and roots rock tradition with appearances by Peter Buck and Gillian Welch.

    Opinions?

    For further listening:

    O, Valencia!
    Clementine
    The Crane Wife, Part 3
    I Was Meant For The Stage
    The Rake's Song
    The Infanta
    The Mariner's Revenge Song
    Summersong
    The Perfect Crime, #2
    The Island
    The Wanting Comes In Waves
    Calamity Song
    Down By The Water
     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    i always thought that his voice sounds like the guy (jeff, i think?) from neutral milk hotel, and i worshipped neutral milk hotel for a while. i think that's why i am in the meh category...kinda wimpy, too. i mean, i can totally be a sucker for the wimpier stuff sometimes, but i just never liked them.

    i think it's also because this really pretentious kid i knew was obsessed with them and it was a turnoff.
     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    On the way home today I heard 'Down by the Water'.  Sounded very good.

     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    I can see why they appeal to you, Matty.   I do think they are a combination of an acquired taste and/or you have to really be interested in lyrics b/c their songs are very lyric-centric, if that makes sense. 

    They're not really "sweet" enough for me.  I haven't heard enough of their songs to know for sure, so maybe a bit "hit or miss"; if more of their songs followed suit to "Down by the Water",  that would be what would interest me. 

    Listen to "We Both Go Down Together"  against  "Losing my Religion"  (REM) and tell me if I am off base -- but notice anything?  

    I saw the review yesterday, did you see it?  Here it is in case you missed it  (decent review):


    http://www.boston.com/ae/music/articles/2011/01/31/decemberists_show_splendid_if_shortened_at_house_of_blues/
     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    Most of my new music comes from XM channel 115 (Disney).  That's what happens when you have 6 and 9 year old girls.

     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    As a general rule, I have found that music which contains a large wow factor on the first listen tends to not have a lot of staying power.  And yet others get much better after multiple listens ... The Decemberists falls into the latter category.  On the advice of a friend (who usually is dead on when it comes to my taste) I gave them a try.  At first they didn't do much for me, but after a few more listens I find that I like their music.  In fact I have "Perfect Crime" stuck in my head now.
     


    Which reminds me I have to put "the King Is Dead" onto my I-Pod

     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    "The Crane Wife"  is amazing.  Have you checked out Tarkio (Colin's band while he was in college)? 

    I've been trying to get my hands on Colin Meloy Sings Morrissey.  Has anyone heard anything off of it?
     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    In Response to Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists:
    [QUOTE]I can see why they appeal to you, Matty.   I do think they are a combination of an acquired taste and/or you have to really be interested in lyrics b/c their songs are very lyric-centric, if that makes sense.  They're not really "sweet" enough for me.  I haven't heard enough of their songs to know for sure, so maybe a bit "hit or miss"; if more of their songs followed suit to "Down by the Water",  that would be what would interest me.  Listen to "We Both Go Down Together"  against  "Losing my Religion"  (REM) and tell me if I am off base -- but notice anything?   I saw the review yesterday, did you see it?  Here it is in case you missed it  (decent review): http://www.boston.com/ae/music/articles/2011/01/31/decemberists_show_splendid_if_shortened_at_house_of_blues/
    Posted by yogafriend[/QUOTE]

    Interesting review.  I was actually at Saturday's show (and I suspect the better setlist, but I'm not quibbling) and they sounded great.  Yes, they have this kind of lyrical shadiness I like very much - almost like a grimm fairy tale or jonathan swift satire.

    And yes, I can definitely appreciate the similarities to R.E.M.  After all, they became well-known for their morrissey covers, so it only seems natural to segue into the state-side college-y rock for additional influence.  Even a quick look at their guest artists bears this out.

    Again, they're not for everyone, but I always like bands that make you put forth some effort as a listener.  "...Wives" grabbed me instantly because it was so quirky, but the more I listened, the more I wanted to listen.  They just tend to creep up and grow on you like english ivy.
     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    In Response to Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists:
    [QUOTE]And yes, I can definitely appreciate the similarities to R.E.M. Posted by MattyScornD[/QUOTE]

    i am not quite sure that yoga meant that...i interpreted it as she was saying it was a rip off...for lack of a better phrase
     
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    In Response to Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists:
    [QUOTE]In Response to Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists : i am not quite sure that yoga meant that...i interpreted it as she was saying it was a rip off...for lack of a better phrase
    Posted by phsmith8[/QUOTE]

    Perhaps, then, we can agree that one person's rip-off is another person's homage...?

    And with Peter Buck himself playing on "The King Is Dead", they appear to have come full circle.


    And not to put too fine a point on it, but does it matter in the end that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" totally apes the riff from "More Than A Feeling"...?  Maybe it does.  Sounds like a good topic for another thread....
     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    well i do agree that tons of songs are rips of other songs, although the third chord in the progression of SMTS is actually a Gsharp whereas in MTAF it's a Dsharp...to the best of my memory at least, but i'm sure that they are different chords.

    it would be a good thread idea though, and you have a way with words so i'll leave that one up to you!
     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    assuming they are played in the same key (F i think?)

     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    But the larger point is still valid.  Given that "art imitates life", and we are all human, then there are bound to be overlaps.

    My sketches of ballerinas are not the same as Degas', but they are similar, because they influenced me in terms of subject matter if not specifically in execution or style. 

    I'll try to assemble the argument more clearly into a thread at some point....
     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    My Sweet Lord .... sorry George
     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    In Response to Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists:
    [QUOTE]But the larger point is still valid.  Given that "art imitates life", and we are all human, then there are bound to be overlaps. My sketches of ballerinas are not the same as Degas', but they are similar, because they influenced me in terms of subject matter if not specifically in execution or style.  I'll try to assemble the argument more clearly into a thread at some point....
    Posted by MattyScornD[/QUOTE]


    yeah i agree. there are certain ones that are absolutely a rip, whether it be the artist's subconscious or not.

    others are more vague, but we'll get into that when the time comes.
     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    Castaway's and Cutouts is a really good, well written album, especially Leslie Ann Levine and California One... I think the Decemberists have a very unique sound all their own.
     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    Can't say I've heard a lot of them, but I do like "Down By the Water" a lot. Reminds me a little of early REM, though the vocals (especially the woman) are different.

    A new(er) guy I've been into lately is Ray Lamontagne. That guy is awesome.
     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    i like ray
     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    In Response to Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists:
    [QUOTE]In Response to Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists : Interesting review.  I was actually at Saturday's show (and I suspect the better setlist, but I'm not quibbling) and they sounded great.  Yes, they have this kind of lyrical shadiness I like very much - almost like a grimm fairy tale or jonathan swift satire. And yes, I can definitely appreciate the similarities to R.E.M.  After all, they became well-known for their morrissey covers, so it only seems natural to segue into the state-side college-y rock for additional influence.  Even a quick look at their guest artists bears this out. Again, they're not for everyone, but I always like bands that make you put forth some effort as a listener.  "...Wives" grabbed me instantly because it was so quirky, but the more I listened, the more I wanted to listen.   They just tend to creep up and grow on you like english ivy.
    Posted by MattyScornD[/QUOTE]
    Hey Matty,
    I'd like to clarify what I meant, since my comment was a bit ambiguous.  The reason I was ambiguous was that I don't know that much about the Decemberists, so wasn't sure if I was hitting on something "derivative" (the word I'd use, not "rip off" ) or as you said, that there are *similarities*.  You gave a good case for it.  So I'm ok with that, because it shows that I was moreorless on target with what I heard in the music. 

    Additionally, I have to agree that it's very subjective with regard to viewing "inspiration" vs. copying or being so deriviative that you have no originality at all.   Such is the case  with all of the applied arts, so it's not an easy topic to discuss, and you're always going to get a wide range of responses and opinions.

    I bought two paintings last year from a local artist I have grown to like and she gets her inspiration from anime and Andy Warhol, and the results are clearly original; but the influence and inspiration are clear as day.  To me, she could not possibly be any more original than she is, and I love the paintings. 

    I think discussing that sort of "fine line" in music takes a lot more skill.  When it's visual, it's much easier to discuss, IMHO.
     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    In Response to Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists:
    [QUOTE]In Response to Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists : Hey Matty, I'd like to clarify what I meant, since my comment was a bit ambiguous.  The reason I was ambiguous was that I don't know that much about the Decemberists, so wasn't sure if I was hitting on something "derivative" (the word I'd use, not "rip off" ) or as you said, that there are *similarities*.  You gave a good case for it.  So I'm ok with that, because it shows that I was moreorless on target with what I heard in the music.  Additionally, I have to agree that it's very subjective with regard to viewing "inspiration" vs. copying or being so deriviative that you have no originality at all.   Such is the case  with all of the applied arts, so it's not an easy topic to discuss, and you're always going to get a wide range of responses and opinions. I bought two paintings last year from a local artist I have grown to like and she gets her inspiration from anime and Andy Warhol, and the results are clearly original; but the influence and inspiration are clear as day.  To me, she could not possibly any more original than she is, and I love the paintings.  I think discussing that sort of "fine line" in music takes a lot more skill.  When it's visual, it's much easier to discuss, IMHO.
    Posted by yogafriend[/QUOTE]

    Funny, yoga, but you've hit upon a topic that is an endless source of fascination for me: the language we use to describe what we see, how we feel, how we think, etc.  I wrote upon this topic quite a bit in art school when I found that certain types of students tend to have greater difficulty with writing essays - art students (and nursing) in particular by the nature of their visual (vs. verbal) acumen.  They had trouble putting into words what was clear to them as artists.

    But even with every day people, it can often be hard to verbalize what the mind thinks of as visual or auditory stimuli, i.e., "I don't know why I like it; I just do".  And I think part of the problem is not having the right set of vocabularies to apply in a way that makes sense.  Does knowing Warhol make your friends' paintings better or worse, or does it matter at all? 

    For quite some time now, experts have debated whether critics (art, music, film, etc.) serve any meaningful purpose, since normal people have seen enough movies and heard enough music to know what's good and what's not.  I think that's only partially true.

    My argument is that only difference between critics and laymen is knowing which descriptors to use at a given time and in what sequence.  So, for instance, you (being as astute as you are) heard a Decemberists song and thought, "That sounds like R.E.M."  And it turns out you were right (and prescient).  And then the internal commentator moves on into thinking if its just similar, or a "rip-off", or "tribute", or whatever and then assigns a judgement based upon your previous tendencies: "like it", "love it", "meh", etc....
     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    Update: I just heard "This Is Why We Fight," which I also liked. Very interesting sound.
     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    In Response to Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists:
    [QUOTE]In Response to Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists : Funny, yoga, but you've hit upon a topic that is an endless source of fascination for me: the language we use to describe what we see, how we feel, how we think, etc.  I wrote upon this topic quite a bit in art school when I found that certain types of students tend to have greater difficulty with writing essays - art students (and nursing) in particular by the nature of their visual (vs. verbal) acumen.  They had trouble putting into words what was clear to them as artists. But even with every day people, it can often be hard to verbalize what the mind thinks of as visual or auditory stimuli, i.e., "I don't know why I like it; I just do".  And I think part of the problem is not having the right set of vocabularies to apply in a way that makes sense.  Does knowing Warhol make your friends' paintings better or worse, or does it matter at all? 
    My argument is that only difference between critics and laymen is knowing which descriptors to use at a given time and in what sequence.  So, for instance, you (being as astute as you are) heard a Decemberists song and thought, "That sounds like R.E.M."  And it turns out you were right (and prescient).  And then the internal commentator moves on into thinking if its just similar, or a "rip-off", or "tribute", or whatever and then assigns a judgement based upon your previous tendencies: "like it", "love it", "meh", etc....
    Posted by MattyScornD[/QUOTE]
    Ok, I'll go one more round.  Smile
    I can understand that a person who relates to the world "visually" would find it easier to let's say "draw a picture" to answer a question, than to write the answer in text, and that their verbal/writing skills would hit snags.  The skill of a great writer is someone with extraordinary facility with words, that's their canvas, so even if that writer can't hold a paintbrush or draw a basic picture of a house, he could describe a house in all its glorious detail better than a visual artist could.  I'll buy it.  (BTW, what did you mean by "nursing" ?)

    Does knowledge of, let's say an artist such as Andy Warhol, enhance my enjoyment or my visual experience of an artist influenced by his art?  Absolutely.  Sure, it's legitimate to say, "I like it because I just do"; or "I like it because it is soothing" ; or any personal, irrefutable reason.   But where the true appreciation comes in, is from the ability to give the painting a richer context, seeing the influence, inspiration, and yes, training, that came into play when the painting was created.  This is subjective, but yes, I feel that I appreciate that work of art more than the person who just likes it "because" of "whatevs" , if you excuse me for saying it that way!  ;)

    I have a friend whose creations are basically paper (sort of collage) and she puts her paper art into various "usable" objects, such as boxes and paperweights.  (she's 80 by the way!) -- I bought a paperweight from her.  I love it.  There were loads to choose from, so why did I zero in on the one I did?  Because it reminds me of a Richard Diebenkorn painting.  I kept staring at it because I liked it, and was drawn to it, but then said, hey, I know why.  Did she do it deliberately?  Of course not.   Does the paperweight mean more to me and do I enjoy it more than if it were just a "pretty design" to me -- yes, of course I do.  I get an absolute kick out of looking at it as I see Diebenkorn every time I look at it, and that brings me enjoyment (let's face it, I will never own an original!)

    So yes, training, knowledge, context, what have you, all enhance one's visual (and auditory) experience in life.  I can't help but believe that.  Hearing a piece of music and having the knowledge and ability to relate it to another piece of music is connecting the dots of your knowledge and therefore, giving you a richer experience.  Sure, it's fine and even great to just develop your own taste without any context, but how long will it be before someone says "hey, if you like REM, you should check out the Decemberists" ??? Somewhere along the line someone is going to open your eyes and help you connect the dots.  That's going to feel like fun.  Any curious person is going to want to continue down that path. 

    This, to me, is the thrill of learning.  Those connections. 

    And lastly, I agree that art, film, etc., critics have never been more under fire or devalued.   This is, of course, very sad.   The trained eye (or ear) has been traded in for a bunch of blowhard opinions off the internet.   Sure, the opinion of the layperson matters, but again, does that person have a context, can that average layperson help you connect the dots?    
    :)
     
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    Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists

    In Response to Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists:
    [QUOTE]In Response to Re: Artist of the Day - The Decemberists : Ok, I'll go one more round.  I can understand that a person who relates to the world "visually" would find it easier to let's say "draw a picture" to answer a question, than to write the answer in text, and that their verbal/writing skills would hit snags.  The skill of a great writer is someone with extraordinary facility with words, that's their canvas, so even if that writer can't hold a paintbrush or draw a basic picture of a house, he could describe a house in all its glorious detail better than a visual artist could.  I'll buy it.  (BTW, what did you mean by "nursing" ?) Does knowledge of, let's say an artist such as Andy Warhol, enhance my enjoyment or my visual experience of an artist influenced by his art?  Absolutely.  Sure, it's legitimate to say, "I like it because I just do"; or "I like it because it is soothing" ; or any personal, irrefutable reason.   But where the true appreciation comes in, is from the ability to give the painting a richer context, seeing the influence, inspiration, and yes, training, that came into play when the painting was created.  This is subjective, but yes, I feel that I appreciate that work of art more than the person who just likes it "because" of "whatevs" , if you excuse me for saying it that way!  ;) I have a friend whose creations are basically paper (sort of collage) and she puts her paper art into various "usable" objects, such as boxes and paperweights.  (she's 80 by the way!) -- I bought a paperweight from her.  I love it.  There were loads to choose from, so why did I zero in on the one I did?  Because it reminds me of a Richard Diebenkorn painting.  I kept staring at it because I liked it, and was drawn to it, but then said, hey, I know why.  Did she do it deliberately?  Of course not.   Does the paperweight mean more to me and do I enjoy it more than if it were just a "pretty design" to me -- yes, of course I do.  I get an absolute kick out of looking at it as I see Diebenkorn every time I look at it, and that brings me enjoyment (let's face it, I will never own an original!) So yes, training, knowledge, context, what have you, all enhance one's visual (and auditory) experience in life.  I can't help but believe that.  Hearing a piece of music and having the knowledge and ability to relate it to another piece of music is connecting the dots of your knowledge and therefore, giving you a richer experience.  Sure, it's fine and even great to just develop your own taste without any context, but how long will it be before someone says "hey, if you like REM, you should check out the Decemberists" ??? Somewhere along the line someone is going to open your eyes and help you connect the dots.  That's going to feel like fun.  Any curious person is going to want to continue down that path.  This, to me, is the thrill of learning.  Those connections.  And lastly, I agree that art, film, etc., critics have never been more under fire or devalued.   This is, of course, very sad.   The trained eye (or ear) has been traded in for a bunch of blowhard opinions off the internet.   Sure, the opinion of the layperson matters, but again, does that person have a context, can that average layperson help you connect the dots?     :)
    Posted by yogafriend[/QUOTE]

    Well said...reminds me of the caffeinated bull sessions of yore I so seldom have these days.  Thanks for your learned perspective.  (and Diebenkorn rocks.)

    Incidentally, by "nursing", I meant "nursing students".  (I was an english tutor in college, and I found that art students and nursing students shared some cognitive tendencies in their essays.  They also seemed to be the hardest working majors, but that's another opinion.)

    I don't see too many tears shed for critics.  For one thing, just because they have the best eye or ear doesn't mean they can write worth a damm.  There are exceptions, of course, but none close to, say, a Lester Bangs-level of context.
     

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