The Decemberists The Tain EP

[Acuarela; 2004]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: folk-pop, indie pop, chamber pop
Others: Neutral Milk Hotel, Grandaddy, Kings of Convenience

The Decemberists are a machine. Since their inception only a few years ago, they've released two EPs, two full-lengths, and have toured almost non-stop. But the most amazing thing is how consistent they've stayed throughout. Not only have they stayed consistent, they've actually gotten better. In a world filled with three-year gaps between debut releases and the almost inevitable "sophomore slump," The Decemberists have found a way to tap into that elusive ability that allows a band to release something almost every year and have the results be incredible every time.

Which brings us to their new EP, The Tain. Based on the Celtic mythology cycle of the same name, the album consists of a sole 18 and a half-minute track titled "The Tain (Parts I, II, III, IV, V)." I've been wondering (and you probably have been, too) why they didn't just split it into five tracks and have them run together, but I get the feeling that this piece of music is intended to always be taken as a whole, and not whatever part you feel like listening to at the time. And after having listened to it, I am inclined to agree.

As far as an interpretation of the myths that it's based on, The Tain is fairly loose. Rather than just recount the story, The Decemberists have opted to adapt and twist it, an abstract retelling. Since The Decemberists stay away from using any specific names from the stories, it allows the lyrics to have a more universal appeal and be applied to things that are maybe more familiar to us, rather than just the myths they're based on.

The Tain finds The Decemberists in top form yet again, though they start to stray from the sound many fans know and love. The music on The Tain almost seems to be a throwback to 70s rockers like Deep Purple, Iron Butterfly, and maybe even just a smidgen of (dare I say it) Black Sabbath. That's not to say that Mr. Meloy and company have gone all prog on us, but the heavy hand of a genre that no one would even admit to liking a few years ago is definitely present. Is prog the new garage perhaps?

As dreadful as it may sound to some, The Decemberists pull off this new sound extraordinarily well. I even found myself in a significant head bob at parts. But don't worry, the more familiar elements of The Decemberists' sound are still around; they're just not as near to the spotlight as they used to be. They're content to hanging around in the background and stepping forward every now and then to switch things up a bit.

With plans to already start recording again this summer, The Decemberists show no signs of slowing down. There's no telling where they'll go from here, but I can only assume that they'll continue to top themselves, as unbelievable as that may sound.

1. Shanty for the Arethusa
2. Billy Liar
3. Los Angeles, I'm Yours
4. The Gymnast, High Above the Ground
5. The Bachelor and the Bride
6. Song for Myla Goldberg
7. The Soldiering Life
8. Red Right Ankle
9. I Was Meant for the Stage
10. As I Rise