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 and Picaresque). 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
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.
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.
"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 "Leslie Anne Levine" has a verse where the singer tells of having made an acquaintance with a chimney sweep; which is unlikely to be true since the first verse already said she was a stillborn.
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.
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..."
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.
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.
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"...
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.
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!"
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.
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".
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.
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.