Understanding the Decemberists in 13 Songs

The Decemberists are nothing less than the band that got me into indie rock, albeit in a very non-indie way: back in January of 2009, I was watching a rerun of one of my favorite episodes of How I Met Your Mother, “Ted Mosby, Architect”. During the episode’s denouement, as Ted Mosby walks the streets of New York and muses on his relationship woes, the seminal Decemberists’ track “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect” plays. I’d seen the episode before, but something inside me told me to look up the song this time — and just a month later I had purchased all five of the Decemberists’ LPs (including the newly released The Hazards of Love) and was at the beginning of a relationship that I still find myself in. They’ve provided the soundtrack of my past 6 years, good and bad, and with their new album What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World there’s no better time to fall in love with them again — or for the very first time.

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The Decemberists – “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World”

We know, we know, we belong to ya.
We know you built your life around us.
And would we change? We had to change some.

And with that, the Decemberists begin their 7th album with a knowing wink, a sad and insightful look at the relationship between a band and its audience. And sure enough, the Decemberists have changed: What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World” is their poppiest, most buoyant album yet. Unfortunately, it’s also their least ambitious and exciting.

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What in the World “Combat Salacious Removal” Means, and Why Abstract Lyrics Work

Sometimes I don’t know why I love the things I love. I was sitting in my room and doing homework this weekend while blasting through Interpol’s 2004 album Antics, singing along to the track “Length of Love”. It’s a great track, starting around a sinister guitar part before it shifts into the kind of ersatz-punk-disco that Interpol is known for. Naturally I’m singing along, but when I get to the chorus I stop and ask myself, “What in the world did I just sing?” See, I had to ask this question because the chorus is just a three word motif sung in Paul Banks’ ALL CAPS monotone. The words? (And I’m not making this up) “COMBAT SALACIOUS REMOVAL”.

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Music and Memories

“Taxman” always makes me think of this. (Photo courtesy of Zachary Willis)

I’ve read over and over again that olfaction is the strongest sense at evoking memories. I think it has to do with the amygdala or something — hey, I’m not a neuroscience major. There are certain smells that bring up memories for me, some specific and some general; the smell of pine and sugar cookies makes me think of Christmas; the smell of “Midnight Pomegranate” hand soap, weirdly enough, makes me think of playing Call of Duty 4 back in 8th grade. Growing up in the plains of Northern Indiana, I always looked forward to the first day of summer — not June 21, but rather some Saturday in late April or May when I’d wake up, open the window, and smell the first faint, sweet, loamy scent of soil carried across the fields on the constant breeze. Every once in a while I’ll catch a brief whiff of it in Nashville and it still makes me excited.

Despite all this, one sense evokes more memories than scent for me: hearing. Specifically, hearing music; nothing else so vividly conjures up the events of my life as it does. [Read more…]