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Friday, February 01, 2008

The Top 5 Songs by The Decemberists

Four albums into their career, The Decemberists have a lot of quality songs under their belt. Narrowing down that long list of great songs is not easy feat, but fortunately for you, I'm here to give you their 5 best songs so you don't have to worry about doing it yourself. You're welcome. Make it out to "cash."

5. "Leslie Anne Levine" from the album, Castaways and Cutouts - You could call The Decemberists a lot of things, but dumb would probably not be one of them. To most people, the lead-off track to their debut album was their first introduction to the band, and what an introduction it was! "Leslie Anne Levine" is an unapologetically morbid song about a girl who was "Born at 9 and dead at noon," but wasn't found until fifteen years later. Who would've thought such a song would soon be a sing-a-long favorite after just a few listens? It's a perfect introduction to what The Decemberists are all about; bookish lyrics, morbid tales, and completely engrossing music.

4. "O Valencia" from the album, The Crane Wife - Ah another one of those sad tales from The Decemberists. Do they ever get tired? Not for me. This one is a beautiful tale of two lovers whose families are feuding. Kind of like a Romeo and Juliet type of thing. The male character says to the female, "Await for the stone on your window," which of course is the cue for their eloping to begin. As they make their mistake, however, they are confronted by her family. She runs to his arm just as a shot rings out, and as Colin Meloy sings, "Your frame went limp in my arms and an oath of love was your dying cry." Whoah! How could you not love such poetic romanticism?

3. "16 Military Wives" from the album, Picaresque - The great thing about Colin Meloy as a song writer is that he manages to tell tales that are morbid, humorous, and touching, sometimes all in the same song! "16 Military Wives" is an obvious anti-Iraq war song, but Meloy is such a good song writer that you probably wouldn't realize it at first listen if you didn't know what the name of the song was. The song doesn't outright criticize the war (though you can tell that he does hold contempt for it), which is nice. He does, however, paint a portrait of 16 Military Wives saying goodbye to their loved ones as they depart for war, knowing that some will not return. He later goes on to criticize celebrities who are vocal about the war as well as the emotionally detached anchorpersons who report on the violence day after day. Pair all that with a great melody and a chorus that's so catchy you can't help but love it, and you've #3. BAM!

2. "I Was Meant for the Stage" from the album, Her Majesty, The Decemberists - For a long time, this was one of my favorite indie songs of all time. I believe it came it at #2, right behind "Pink Bullets" by The Shins. And while "Pink Bullets" has managed to retain it's spot, time has not been so good to this one. That's not to say I don't love it though. I do! It is an absolutely beautiful song, and one of the few time that Meloy actually sings about himself (I think it's about him at least). The 8 1/2 minutes of this song filled with self-affirmation from Colin, singing, "The heavens at my birth intended me for stardom. Rays of light shone down on me and all my sins were pardoned. I was meant for applause. I was meant for derision. Nothing short of fate itself has affected my decision." The last few minutes are quite noisy and messy, but it's such a gorgeous song that it can be overlooked. Listen to it.

1. "Odalisque" from the album, Castaways and Cutouts - Despite myself having no idea what this song is about, I can't help but love every second of it. I know from Wikipedia that an Odalisque is a "virgin female slave that could rise in status to be a concubine" (oh yay!), but I have no clue what that has to do with a baby being raised on "pradies, peanut shells, and dirt" or wondering what to do with "10 dirty Jews, a 30'ought full of rock salt, and a warm afternoon." But I'll be damned if it isn't a completely rockin' song that will make you fall head over heels in love with The Decemberists. That's pretty much what it did for me, at least. What about you?


jill said...

"Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect" is the finest Decemberists song there is...probably because it's the only one I like.

Cale said...

I remember you saying that, yet I don't quite understand it.

Jason said...

I would have to say "I Was Meant For The Stage" is there best song. Also, I really like "The Shankhill Butchers", however I am sure I am alone with that thought.

Vianne said...

"Odalisque" has some illusions to human trafficking. The line "What do we do with ten baby shoes, a kit bag full of marbles and a broken billiard cue?" is about the mother (the "lazy lady" that "had a baby girl") who has just sold her to be an odalisque/female slave, since she is too poor to keep a child, and questions what to do with her daughter's childhood toys since they are not useful anymore (and broken, evidence of their poverty). The "peanut shells and dirt in a railroad culdesac" is another example of how poor they are. I like to think of the girl as a runaway as well, hence the line "when they find you, odalisque, they will rend you terribly..." From what I've learned about odalisques, they typically were not treated nicely, and I have heard in some stories that unwanted or rebellious odalisques were sewn into cloth bags and thrown into the ocean.
I have no idea what the verse about the dirty Jews means, but that's what I got out of the rest of the song anyway.

Vianne said...

Also, I basically agree with your list, although I really think "Song for Myla Goldberg" and "Here I Dreamt I was an Architect" ought to be in the top 3. But it's difficult to choose since they are such a talented band!

Matthew said...

Good list, I'm not too familiar with Cutouts and Castaways or Her Majesty, but only because I was either half asleep or unable to listen to them. Odalisque is great, but I think "The Infanta" because its one of the best songs off Picaresque.

Miss Marzipan said...

You are so right–however, I disagree with you about "Odalisque". There's no denying it's a great song, but I prefer others to it. And I think that "A Cautionary Song" is hauntingly good, and their single "Valerie Plame" deserves some recognition. As well as "Angels and Angles"-Meloy's voice is perfect for the song.