Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Album Review: "The Hazards of Love" by The Decemberists

Anyone want to hear about some music? Remember when I used to write about music regularly on here? Those were the days. It's not like I haven't been listening to new stuff or thinking of old favorites that I'd like to share with my friends on the interweb. I just got it in my head that I didn't want elispersonalstash to be a music blog. But when I wrote about other stuff, I ended up getting some crazy people all riled up about what God told them to tell everyone else they can and can't do. Those people are lost causes, so I'm back to writing for my people: music nerds, plus my friends and family.

Today, I'd like to introduce you to the album most played on my ipod in 2009: The Hazards of Love by the Decemberists. I'd never been a huge fan, though I liked the song they wrote about me, "Eli the Barrow Boy." This album changed my perception of the Portland indie rockers, led by Colin Meloy. They managed to put together a concept album that tells a clear story that actually also sounds good. In fact, it rocks out at some points.

The story of the album is about two lovers, Margaret and William, and the attempts to keep them apart by William's crazy jealous adoptive mother, the Queen of the Forest. Yes, there's magic. Yes, there are ghosts. Yes, there's a dealmaking river.

The story is good enough that it would totally hold up as a musical or rock opera or something. But that's not what makes it a great album. Meloy and company weave a few recurring melodies and themes throughout the album, which makes it flow better than most albums these days, which are more collections of singles. The instrumentation is really creative... banjos and slide guitars one moment, buzzy reverb and shredding the next. The guest vocalists on the album are superb, and Meloy can sing too. His singing is almost as good as his unabashedly nerdy lyrics (pull out your dictionaries!). 

The album starts off kind of slow, and definitely focuses on exposition more in the early going, sacrificing on the musical end a bit. The album really picks up at track 8 and never looks back. What's track 8, you ask? It's a little ditty called "The Wanting Comes In Waves / Repaid." OK, so the title isn't great. But the song really is. If this song was played out on the stage, William would be on one side singing about his longing for Margaret, and the Queen would be on the other side singing about what an ungrateful pain in the ass William is. William's song is folksy and very Ren-faire-y. The Queen's song is badass blues. The transitions are smooth, and the track works quite well, though probably better in the context of the whole album. 

Track 9 is a little guitar interlude, which just calms you down for a bit before they blow your mind with track 10, "The Rake's Song." The Rake is the nasty villain of the story, and this song is our introduction to his evil ways. It's kind of odd to listen to a singer going on about killing his children, but since it's in the context of a fictional story, it works, and it's richer for its provocativeness. There are some awesome rhymes in this track, and Meloy is at his best vocally too. You can download "The Rake's Song" for free from the Decemberists' site.

If you are even the slightest bit inclined to enjoy the musical theater format, and if you like good rock music, then get this album. Read the lyrics as you listen so you get the whole story. Enjoy!

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