The Decemberists

The Decemberists' Official Website!

By Chris Smith

WHEN: 2000-present

CULPRITS: Colin Meloy (lead vocals, guitar), Chris Funk (guitar, various other instruments), Jenny Conlee (Hammond organ, accordion, melodica, piano, keyboards), Nate Query (bass guitar, double bass), John Moen (drums, backing vocals, melodica) / Former members: Jesse Emerson (bass guitar), Ezra Holbrook (drums, backing vocals), Rachel Blumberg (drums, vocals), David Langenes (guitar), Petra Haden (violin, vocals), Lisa Molinaro (viola, guitar, keyboards, vocals)

ALBUMS: 5 Songs EP (2001); Castaways and Cutouts (2002); Her Majesty the Decemberists (2003); The Tain EP (2004); Picaresque (2005); Picaresqueties EP (2005); The Crane Wife (2006); Connect Sets EP (2006); The Perfect Crime #2 EP (2007); The Hazards of Love (2009)

HOW: I stumbled upon The Decemberists sometime during my freshman year of college and quickly fell in love with their unique style of music.  I somehow found their first full-length album Castaways and Cutouts and just became obsessed with it.  For one reason or another, I stopped listening to them after a few months and then just before The Crane Wife came out, I came back around and stockpiled the rest of their musical library to ready myself for the release.  Since then, I have been completely addicted to everything they do and love listening to anything I can find that they have put out.

“Leslie Anne Levine” from Castaways and Cutouts

WHY: They are unique.  Too many bands sound like this band or that band … not The Decemberists.  Colin Meloy has this amazing way of weaving such interesting storylines into each of the songs the band puts out.  Every song is a story, not just a bunch of one-liners that may or may not have some sort of meaning.  They have instruments that you don’t always hear in music these days (accordion, melodica, organ, and various other strange and interesting sound-making devices), and I love the way those instruments are woven into the songs.

The band does not expect their listeners to simply turn on and tune out.  Instead, they put so much into every song that if you do not focus while listening, there is a good chance you will get lost before the end.  With SAT words and crazy storylines, it is hard to get bored when listening to The Decemberists.  I read a few months ago that The Decemberists have killed off about 70 characters throughout their repertoire of songs.  That is impressive, if you ask me.

With The Hazards of Love, The Decemberists gave their listeners an album that should be listened to in its entirety, as all of the songs come together to create a narrative about lovers William and Mary.  I love this album, it is awesome, but it is hard to listen to many of the songs by themselves since all of them go together so much.  I personally prefer their earlier albums, which are decidedly more folk in style.  The older albums have a little more variance and I just love how I can hear so much over each album.

So, here you go 80MFL readers — you will not be disappointed.

“16 Military Wives” from Picaresque

SONGS: I really do not have much of a method to my madness for this list.  I did my best to give you a smattering of their career while picking the best songs from each album.  I only included one song from Hazards of Love because most of the songs are hard to listen to apart from the rest of the songs.  I also did not include some fan favorites, like ‘The Tain,” because it is long and probably best reserved until one has listened to some of the bands other stuff.  With these songs, you will get a great sense of who the band is and what they are about.

LINK: Click on the list below to hear The Decemberists for free on!

Click the list to hear The Decemberists for free on!


Chris Smith spends his time serving up steaming cups of coffee at an It’s A Grind coffee house in Austin, Texas. When not at the coffee shop, he enjoys tossing frisbees around, spending too much time in book stores, and finding new TV shows to watch on Hulu. He is also somewhat obsessed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Batman.

~ by Brad East on November 12, 2009.

4 Responses to “The Decemberists”

  1. Great list! You got a good deal of my favorites, although I personally would have included “On The Bus Mall,” “Clementine,” “Red Right Ankle” and a few others, and I personally love The Hazards Of Love—it’s actually my second-favorite of theirs. Some of the songs on it actually remind me quite a bit of Castaways And Cutouts, particularly “Annan Water” and “The Drowned.” But all quibbling aside, great selection of songs and very well-written.

  2. I definitely agree with you that those are all great songs. This list was really hard for me to compile, to be quite honest. I went through many sets of songs before I finally settled on this one. I just LOVE a lot of their stuff. After I sent in this post, I had a few back and forth’s with Brad about how I had not included “Sons and Daughters,” which he felt very strongly should be on this list. But in the end, I was happy with the outcome. There are so many different ways this list could have come out, though. That is for sure.

  3. Have you ever seen them live, Chris? I’ve seen them live 4 times (one of those times is directly responsible for my current relationship of over a year, in fact!) and they’re wonderful. “Sons And Daughters” is way better live—particularly since it gets to be a big audience singalong—than on the record, if you ask me.

  4. I totally agree with you on that, “Sons and Daughters” is awesome live! I have seen them twice now, one of which was a show in Portland which was amazing since that is where they are from. I think a lot of their stuff is really good live because of how much the crowd is involved and how much raw energy they all put into each song.

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