The Art of Storytelling with The Decemberists

The Decemberists, take their name from the December revolution in Russia. They are based out of Portland, Oregon and are lead by Colin Meloy. However, the question is what makes them so special beyond their unique name. Why should precious time be wasted in giving them a listen?

The answer is very simple, The Decemberists have given a modern touch to folk music. The instruments in their songs are not what you are used to. There is heavy use of harmonica, accordion, mandolin, bouzouki and pedal steel just to name a few.  These guys do not hold back, they make complicated songs with every instrument coming up with its own contribution leading from one segue in the song to another.

But what makes them really special is their song writing, these guys don’t write songs they write stories. Usually a song deals with a theme, a feeling something a bit more abstract. It is the listeners job to fill his own story based on the idea provided to him.  The Decemberists have taken up the whole task on themselves. They have songs with different characters all playing their own part.  Once you look The Decemberists not as ordinary musicians but as story tellers a lot things start to make sense. The instruments they use are all there to create the charm of folklore. There long solos, complicated arrangements or the rhythm of the song is not to blow you away but to push the story further.

The Mariners Revenge Song is a great example of this it tells you a story of a sailor and the Captain of a ship where the sailor is there to avenge his mother. The solo of the songs creates an atmosphere of a ship being hit by a wave and you feel the chaos of sinking ship. O Valencia is a traditional love song of two lovers from rival families. This is Why We Fight, puts you in the middle of a battlefield fighting for your own freedom even if hell comes because when we die our arms will be unbound. Shankill Butchers is an eerie song dealing with the life of the Shankill gang.  With the descriptive lyric writing and the subtle guitar playing you imagine yourself in a room with the gang, plotting your next move and drinking your whiskey by the pint. My favourite song is January Hymn a song that invokes the feeling of parting ways with someone and coming in terms with it as  routine takes over.

January Hymn

Honestly I can go on and on about the songs written by them like Here I Dreamt I was an Architect or Dear Avery but it might be the best to keep the details at bay and let you guys discover the band on your own. Maybe someday I would come back to them again.


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