Left to right: Nate, John, Colin, Jenny, and Chris.
We are two mariners,
Our ships' sole survivors,
In this belly of a whale.
Its ribs are ceiling beams,
Its guts are carpeting,
I guess we have some time to kill.
—The Decemberists, "The Mariner's Revenge Song"
Most bands write songs about How Much I Love You Babe
, songs that go verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus with nice regular chord structures
, maybe throw in a neat guitar solo in the middle and a fade-out ending, you know, something like that
Most bands are not the Decemberists.
Colin Meloy, Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query, and John Moen form the band's current rotation, with Meloy, Funk and Conlee being the only original members remaining in the band (the band's best known former member is drummer/vocalist Rachel Blumberg who was a member of the band between Her Majesty
). The songs, penned and sung by Meloy, vary from quirky, introspective pop about filicide to rollicking ballads about pirates and gypsies. (There is a disproportionate amount of drowning.) Meloy often employs the narrative form, creating baroque tales from the perspective of lovers, soldiers and sailors.Discography:
- 2001 - 5 Songs EP
- 2002 - Castaways and Cutouts
- 2003 - Her Majesty
- 2004 - The Tain EP (based on the Irish story Táin Bó Cúailnge or Cattle Raid of Cooley)
- 2005 - Picaresque
- 2005 - Picaresqueties EP
- 2006 - The Crane Wife: Humorously called "The best Jethro Tull album since Heavy Horses".
- 2008 - Always The Bridesmaid singles series
- 2009 - The Hazards of Love
- 2011 - The King Is Dead
- 2015 - What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
As of 2011, Colin Meloy has added novel writer to his list of accomplishments, having written the young adult novel WILDWOOD
and its sequel, Under WILDWOOD
. The band also appeared live with Wilco and Letters to Cleo in the sixth season finale of Parks and Recreation
They provide examples of:
- A Date with Rosie Palms: "Billy Liar." "Decked by a Japanese geisha with a garland of pearls," indeed...
- After the End: "Calamity Song."
- Album Intro Track: Prelude
- Album Title Drop: "California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade" has the line "We're lining up the light-loafered and the bored bench warmers / Castaways and cutouts, fill it up."
- Angry Mob Song: "When the War Came" - the rare non-Crowd Song example.
- Anthropomorphic Personification: The Queen in The Hazards of Love: "My feet are the trunks... My head is the canopy high... My fingers extend to the leaves."
- Attempted Rape: "Margaret in Captivity" and "The Island".
- Audience Participation Song:
- "16 Military Wives," primarily during the "la-di-da"s, and "The Mariner's Revenge Song."
- "Billy Liar" is turned into one live.
- "Chimbley Sweep" as well. Meloy encouraged audience members at a show to rip their bolted-together chairs apart and dance with them over their heads.
- Awesome McCoolname: Chris Funk.
- Based on a True Story: The Shankill Butchers were chillingly, chillingly real. The song does exaggerate a bit, but then, it was reflecting the fact that Northern Irish mothers came to use the Butchers as boogeymen.
- Apology Song was based on Colin's experience actually losing his friend Stephen's bicycle. Madeline was found a year later... before Colin crushed it accidentally.
- Bawdy Song: The punchline of "The Chimbley Sweep". Also, "Billy Liar", "A Cautionary Song", and possibly "The Landlord's Daughter."
- Belly of the Whale: "The Mariner's Revenge Song".
- Bittersweet Ending - The Hazards of Love: "And as the waves came crashing down, he closed his eyes and softly kissed her."
- "Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect" may also qualify, as its lyrics seem to speak of a man who, after continually trying and failing to be a good person in prior relationships, has only found satisfaction in seducing married women and teenage girls.
- Bolivian Army Ending: The video for "This Is Why We Fight".
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Combines with Lyrical Dissonance sometimes - see "July, July!" and "The Chimbley Sweep".
- Breakup Song: "Record Year For Rainfall".
- California Collapse: Mentioned in "Calamity Song".
- Celtic Mythology: The Tain, as well as the general "guitar and accordion rock" flavor of many of their songs.
- Concept Album: The Hazards of Love. The Tain is also a concept EP.
- Continuity Nod: Possibly. The woman in "We Both Go Down Together" is considered by some to be the mother of Leslie Anne Levine.
- "The Chimbley Sweep" may or may not be narrated by a minor character from (once more) "Leslie Anne Levine". But no one can say for sure.note
- Creepy Child: The ghosts of the Rake's children in "Revenge!" Though can you blame them?
- Try listening to the "Yummy Yummy Yummy, I got love in my tummy" song after hearing this song. It's so creepy it makes other songs creepy.
- Crowd Song: "Sons & Daughters" and "The Rake's Song".
- Any of their songs can become this in a live performance.
- Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: "The Tain": "I will bleed your heart through a samovar soon". Ow.
- Darker and Edgier: "The Tain" is downright eerie, which is saying something considering the source material.
- Doorstop Baby: "The Chimbley Sweep".
- Driven to Suicide: The implied fate of the narrator from "I Was Meant for the Stage".
- Epic Rocking: The Tain, "The Island: Come & See/The Landlord's Daughter/You'll Not Feel The Drowning", "The Mariner's Revenge Song", "The Crane Wife, Parts Two & Three", and "The Perfect Crime #1/The Day I Knew You'd Not Come Back".
- Notably, The Hazards of Love is performed live as one 50-minute song. Then again, it is a concept album.
- Live performances of "When the War Came" and "The Chimbley Sweep".
- Everyone Has Standards: Jenny Conlee could play songs about homicide, suicide, and infanticide, but "Culling of the Fold" was too violent for her. At her insistence, the song was only available by redeeming a code on The Crane's Wife interior on their website or downloading it from iTunes. The chorus may explain why:
"Ply her heart with gold and silver,
And take your sweetheart down to the river
Dash her on the paving stones,
It may break your heart to break her bones,
But someone's gotta do the culling of the fold..."
- The Fair Folk: The Hazards of Love's Forest Queen, in all likelihood. Overlaps with Anthropomorphic Personification, as seen above.
- Genius Loci: The Annan Water in The Hazards of Love.
- God Save Us from the Queen!: The Hazards of Love.
- Gorn: "Culling of the Fold".
- Historical Fiction: A possible interpretation for "Here I Dreamt I was an Architect". It might also be about famous literature, Reincarnation, Immortality, or the narrator's dreams. It's not all too clear, really.
- I Call It "Vera": Stephen's bicycle Madeline in "The Apology Song".
- I Will Wait for You: "Yankee Bayonet", "From My Own True Love Lost At Sea".
- Infant Immortality: Very, very subverted. There are at least six songs about dead children (Leslie Ann Levine, The Infanta, The Rake's Song/Revenge!, The Chimbley Sweep, The Bachelor and the Bride), and possibly more based on interpretation (such as Dear Avery and Burying Davy).
- Inter-Class Romance: "We Both Go Down Together" is about a wealthy young man who falls in love with a poor girl. It doesn't end well for either of them.
- Intercourse with You: "Oceanside," and possibly "Of Angels and Angles."
- In the Style of...: You might make a case for a song here or there, but the only song where they've explicitly copped to this is "Down By The Water," which is their tribute to REM.
- It's All My Fault: At the end of The Hazards of Love, William mourns to Margaret that "I pulled you, and I called you here," probably referring to how if it hadn't been for him, she would never have come to the forest.
- Legion of Lost Souls: "The Legionnaire's Lament."
- The Lost Woods: The Hazards of Love is set in one of these, ruled by the dread Forest Queen.
- Loudness War: While definitely not the worst offenders, their songs can delve into this at◊ times◊.
- Lyric Swap: in "July, July!", the line "the water rolls down the drain" changes to "the blood rolls down the drain" for one refrain.
- Lyrical Cold Open: "The Legionnaire's Lament", "Billy Liar", "Valerie Plame".
- Lyrical Dissonance: Why, yes, I'll have a big fat cauldronful: "The Legionnaire's Lament", the final verse of "Los Angeles, I'm Yours", "16 Military Wives", the end of "The Mariner's Revenge Song" in a rare instrumental example, "O Valencia!", "Culling of the Fold", "A Cautionary Song", "July, July!", "The Chimbley Sweep", "Calamity Song"...
- Madness Mantra: "Mariner's Revenge": "Fiiiind him, biiiiind him, tie him to a pole and break his fiiiiiingers to spliiiiinters ..."
- Also "Someone's got to do/the culling of the fold..."
- Mafia Princess: O Valencia!
- Mid Word Rhyme: "The Legionnaire's Lament".
"Medicating in the sun
Pinched doses of laudanum
Longing for the old fecund-
-ity of my homeland."
- Murder Ballad: "The Mariner's Revenge Song", "The Rake's Song", "The Culling of the Fold".
- Mrs. Robinson: The widow in "The Chimbley Sweep".
- My Beloved Smother: The Forest Queen in The Hazards of Love.
- New Sound Album: The King Is Dead brings with it an Americana sound best described as Bruce Springsteen gone Country (that steel guitar!). Seriously. Other albums do exhibit subtle changes, but none presented as big of a change as this one.
- Nice Hat: Chris Funk likes to wear a trilby.
- "Not If They Enjoyed It" Rationalization: "We Both Go Down Together" may count, or it may be an inversion depending on how you interpret the line "You wept but your soul was willing."
- Not-So-Safe Harbor: A few of their more maritimal shanties count: "The Mariner's Revenge Song", "Shanty for the Arethusa" (with ghosts!), and A Cautionary Song.
- Offing the Offspring: "The Rake's Song".
- The Other Rainforest: The band is from Portland, Oregon.
- The Perfect Crime: Fittingly, "The Perfect Crime #1" and "The Perfect Crime #2".
- Pirates: Also whalers, privateers, slavers, smugglers, and other miscellaneous mariners.
- Precision F-Strike: "Clementine." "You slept in your overalls/after the wrecking ball/bereft you of house and of home/and left you with sweet fuck-all."
- One of two in their entire discography (not counting live performances). The other, from The Perfect Crime #1: "So we ran around town with the cops stepping on our tails/Because we'd rather break depth than a fist-fuck in county jail/To pull the perfect crime, this is the perfect crime!"
- The President's Daughter: Or rather, "the mogul's daughter in hog tie" (in "The Perfect Crime #2").
- Privateer: See above.
- Queer Romance: "On The Bus Mall" is about two drug-addicted male prostitutes falling in love. Also confirmed in interviews to be the subject of "The Soldiering Life".
- Protest Song: "16 Military Wives," complete with a video that skewers George W. Bush and features a Model United Nations conference gone whack.
- Rape as Drama: "The Landlord's Daughter", "The Abduction of Margaret", possibly "The Chimbley Sweep", "Odalisque", "The Bachelor and the Bride". They managed at least one per album until The King Is Dead.
- Rape Is Love: "We Both Go Down Together". Probable Unreliable Narrator.
- Rock Opera: The Hazards of Love.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: And how.
- Shotacon: Possibly "The Chimbley Sweep". It's not completely clear whether the Sweep is still young enough for it to be shota territory by the third verse. He probably is, though, going by the fact that he's still addressed as "urchin".
- Shout-Out: The mention of "The Year of the Chewable Ambien Tab" and the video for "Calamity Song" are Shout Outs to the late David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.
- Shout-Out to Shakespeare: Constantly.
- Silly Love Songs: Subverted in "Yankee Bayonet". Played straight in "Oceanside". Played straight, if rather unconventionally in "The Bandit Queen."
- The Something Song: "The Rake's Song".
- Sophisticated as Hell: "Los Angeles, I'm Yours"
- Star-Crossed Lovers: "O Valencia!" very much so. Also, one interpretation of "We Both Go Down Together".
- Taking You with Me: The end of the full "O Valencia!" video.
- Take That/"The Reason You Suck" Speech: "Los Angeles, I'm Yours" consists 4 minutes of Colin Meloy hating on Los Angeles in great detail.
- Tickertape Parade: The band use this term in their song ''The Perfect Crime #2."
"It was like a tickertape parade
When the plastique on the safe was blown away"
- Unreliable Narrator: "Here I Dreamt I was an Architect", "We Both Go Down Together".
- Unusual Euphemism: "The Chimbley Sweep".
- Used Future: Appears to be the case in the video for "This Is Why We Fight".
- Used to Be a Sweet Kid: "The Shankill Butchers".
"They used to be just like me and you
They used to be sweet little boys
But something went horribly askew
Now killing is their only source of joy"
- Villain Song: "The Rake's Song". Depending on your interpretation, "The Culling of the Fold" could be this.
- War Is Hell: The lyrics of "This Is Why We Fight".
- Not to mention the harrowing and gruesome "When the War Came".
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The heroine's pregnancy drives the action in "The Hazards of Love" — up until track seven. The baby's never mentioned after that, and it's presumably left orphaned and alone at the end.
- Actually, the entirety of "The Hazards of Love" (after Margaret runs into the woods) takes place over the course of about two days, and Word of God confirms she's still pregnant at the time of Isn't It a Lovely Night, so it's safe to assume the baby dies as well.
- The Forest queen is as interested in getting William's illegitimate unborn child out of the picture as she is his lover, and instructs The Rake (who, like Colin Meloy, is no stranger to infanticide) to render Margret "rift and defiled," so it's likely her brutal rape was also accompanied by a miscarriage or an forced abortion.
- Your Makeup Is Running: "The Tain".