Archive for the 'CD Reviews' Category

Gig Review: Eels at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 27th February 2008

I’m not really sure where to begin this review because it needs to encapsulate not only the stunning performance by Mark Everett (or E) at the Bridgewater Hall last week, but also his recent “Best Of” collection, the b-sides compilation released at the same time, his moving autobiography, Things the Grandchildren Should Know, and the documentary he made for BBC4 about his father, the renowned physicist, Hugh Everett.

I remember hearing E’s first single, “Hello Cruel World” on the radio around 1991 or so, back when he was calling himself “A Man Called E.” The single was pretty good, but when I borrowed the album from a friend, I was less than impressed and thought nothing more of it until about 1996 when “Novacaine for the Soul” hit MTV. The song was catchy and unusual, considering everything on MTV at the time was either bad rap or even worse grunge. Something about the too-slick video and the slightly too-trendy indie haircuts on the band made me wonder if they were a one-trick pony, but when I spotted the album for a bargain $7 in Best Buy I bought it anyway. It was much better than I’d anticipated but still had this air of immaturity and lack of seriousness about the songs. “Susan’s House” has always annoyed me a little and there was something overly cute about masquing angst and depression behind comic book descriptions of “beloved monsters.” Nevertheless, when Eels played Lollapalooza that summer on the smaller stage, as we’d shelled out $30 to see James and Tricky, I figured I’d see what they were like on stage. I’d never seen anything quite like it.

For starters, they opened with their big radio hit, “Novacaine for the Soul” doing it as a spoken-word piece, which I thought was immediately gutsy because the crowd of frat boys and metalheads seriously didn’t appreciate it. Then as they worked their way through the album, the songs were almost unrecognizeable, they made everything sound different live. It was unusual, it was playful, and to me it suggested a set of serious musicians who were experimenting with their music, who saw songwriting as fluid and adaptable to their current mood, and it suggested a lack of preciousness and an ability to critique themselves. Other members of the crowd were less appreciative. One fellow, either stupid or just late to the set, kept screaming for “Novacaine for the Soul.” After a few minutes of this E responded by asking “Do you mean this?” and playing the guitar hook. As the crowd screamed “yay!” thinking the band were going to play it “properly” he said “We’ve done that already, you should have got here on time.” Then he made the guy get up on stage and play the jingle bells.

To me that has pretty much summed up what I expect from E as a songwriter. He’s always experimenting with his own songs. Although you may know what to expect from an Eels album, lyrically at least, live it’s a mixed bag. One tour he may bring an orchestra, another he’s in full-on rock mode. Songs get sped up, slowed down, tried in different forms, sometimes renderded unrecognizeable, but it’s always fascinating, entertaining and up-front yet it is never, ever predictable.

One of the things that sets a truly great artist apart from an average one is the ability to really open up and be vulnerable and truthful. Few songwriters achieve it – Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Nick Cave – and E is amongst these great songwriters. What is more striking, and what comes out in his recent autobiography, is that he doesn’t recognise that in himself. The book is a simple account of his rather unusual upbringing and the chaos, trauma and death that have followed him from the time he was a child. He writes quite plainly about his lack of a relationship with his father, who simply did not relate well to people; the shock of his father’s death; his sister’s depression, her drug problem and suicide; his mother’s battle with cancer; and most of all his long struggle to find himself, to feel worthy of anything, his brushes with drugs, alcohol and the law growing up, and his eventual decision to take a chance on his songwriting abilities. What struck me the most about the book were:

1) his descriptions about how, even now when he has produced some amazing albums, has a large cult following and can sell out venues the size of Bridgewater Hall, he still has to fight to release albums that record companies don’t find “commercial” enough. You don’t mess with genius. Seriously. When big labels die a death it will be in part because of their inability to grasp this, and to admit that sometimes their artists know best.

2) his amazement that artists like Neil Young and Tom Waits see him as a songwriter worthy of their patronage; and

3) his remark that he gets angry mail from fans who say they are betrayed every time he changes his style a little. Do these people really understand his music at all?

This tour was in support, then, of the book as well as a career retrospective which consists of a Best of CD and a two-CD collection of rarities, live tracks and b-sides which really does put the spotlight on how much he tinkers with the sound of his own music. The night, however, started with a showing of the documentary about his father. E was never close with his father and until recently never understood his father’s most important work, which has only been recognised as groundbreaking since his father’s death, nor has he ever really understood his father. In the documentary, he set out to try and grasp not only his father’s work, but to find out more about his father as a person, so he could feel closer to his roots. He succeeds on both counts.

His father was a quantum physicist who took the idea that electrons moving quickly can be in two places at once, to come up with the idea that these electrons emulate all matter which means that, in essence, people can be in two, ten, a thousand places at once. His idea is that for every choice we make, an alternate universe splits off in which we made the other choice, so that an infinite number of alternate realities exist as a result. His theory has seeped into popular culture in science fiction, literature and cinema – Dr. Who leaving Rose Tyler in a parallel world, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s evil vampire Willow being two prime examples. As E spoke to colleagues and friends of his father, the documentary shows him coming to grips not only with the genius of his father, but also with a greater understanding of what made his father into the person he was, uncommunicative with his children and seemingly unhappy. When he finally discovers some cassettes of his father talking he is visibly moved as he is able to connect the man he knew to the personality described by the people who knew other sides of his father. The end result, perhaps, is his admission in his book that he now realises that him and his father are very much the same – very sensitive and emotional but both shy loners who find it difficult to connect with others on a one-to-one level. I suspect the difference lies in the fact that a performer as open and honest as E is not somebody who shuns emotional connection with others, in fact he seems to be constantly reaching out for it, even if he is not always successful.

When E emerged onto the stage around 9pm he was unaccompanied. He was introduced by a voice telling him that “This is your life” so we knew there was going to be a staged element of comedy to the show. He opened with “Railroad Man” from Blinking Lights and played “Ugly Love” on his own, before introducing The Chet, who accompanied him for the rest of the gig, rotating between them through a range of instruments including three different keyboards, guitars, drums and a saw. On the whole the songs were fairly true to their album versions – as much as they could be with only two musicians on stage – except “Bus Stop Boxer” which was, in contrast to the distorted rock of the original, slow, quiet and acoustic.

In between songs E was as charming and funny as ever, thanking us for coming to see the son of a physicist and breaking up the music by reading through first some fan mail which began with two letters praising him and ended with one calling him a “cunt” for not coming to a particular fan’s hometown. Then he read through some reviews, pretending to get upset when they talking about The Chet’s musical prowess before ending with a review of The Eagles, in true comedic form. Then The Chet gave a couple of short readings from Things the Grandchildren Should Know, donning a pair of thick glasses when speaking in E’s voice, driving home the point that this evening was about E as much as Eels and his past and how he’d come to this point.

All the hits were there from “Souljacker” to “Last Stop: This Town” to “I Like Birds” and included what I think is the first rendition of “Novacaine for the Soul” where he actually sang, not spoke, the lyrics. “Flyswatter” even included a great instrumental moment where E and The Chet swapped instruments without missing a drumbeat, E taking over on drums one stick and beat at a time, sending The Chet to the piano, before The Chet came back and resumed his spot. The Ledge was thrilled to hear “Jeannie’s Diary” off Daisies of the Galaxy, which often doesn’t get a live airing, and I was thrilled to hear “Climbing to the Moon” which is one of my favourite moments off Electro-Shock Blues.

So often best of compilations are either a way for a record label to finish a band’s contract or a way to capitalise on a few extra sales from Christmas or some such event, but what this gig highlighted (as well as the CD releases it was promoting) is the depth and breadth of E’s back catalogue and exactly how much his music has seeped into public consciousness – I hear it in TV shows all the time these days. Unlike many artists as well, his songwriting keeps getting better, he keeps pushing himself to experiment with the range of sounds he uses, the musicians he works with and even with various parts of his back catalogue. Far from being an ending point to a great career, it still sounds to me like Mark Oliver Everett is just getting started and I very much look forward to trekking down to the Bridgewater Hall in 30 years time to see him performing forty years worth of hits from what is sure to become a legendary and groundbreaking career.

Eels – My Beloved Mad Monster Party (Live at the BBC)

Eels – I Like Birds (Live)

Eels – Railroad Man

CD Review: The Cave Singers, Invitation Songs (Matador, 2008)

The Cave Singers - Invitation SongsI sat down to review last night’s Band of Horses gig for whom The Cave Singers opened, but it seemed wrong to write about that live set without first giving an assessment of The Cave Singers’ debut album, which has been glued to the CD player in our kitchen for about three weeks now, having arrived in our postbox, ostensibly delivered by the happiness faeries who thought we needed something uplifting and utterly remarkable to raise our spirits during a gloomy February.

The Ledge first spirited the album away to his car, as he does with pretty much everything good, thereby damning me to never hear any new CDs until weeks after I’ve seen the band in question live, struggling to get to grips with hearing new material live for the first time and take it in properly. I asked him what it was like and he told me it sounded a bit like Grant Lee Buffalo, which excited me. Then I got into his car and heard the album. It sounds nothing like Grant Lee Buffalo, thereby proving what I have suspected for quite some time – The Ledge is entirely deaf and only pretends he can hear music. It explains why he thinks the neighbours can’t hear it when he plays his guitar turned up to 11 at midnight and it also explains his extensive Stereolab collection.

The Ledge-bashing aside, however, as much as this album doesn’t sound like Grant Lee Buffalo, it does sound remarkably like the bastard redneck bearded child of Alex Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Mark Greany of JJ72 attempting to cover their own songs in the style of Bob Dylan. If that sounds awful, I apologise for the hideous mental image but quite frankly it works brilliantly.

The album is a collection of poppy folk songs that evoke feelings of sticky summer evenings, rural settings and romantic yearnings. The most noticeable aspects of these songs are not the somewhat unusual bittersweet, tender lyrics which continually reference nature, wildlife and the physical sensations of emotional connection, but rather the yearning tone of the vocals and the simple, captivating guitar melodies, picked out carefully, note-by-note, which overtake everything else. Despite being very minimal – only three instruments and vocals on most of the tracks – the record feels very full and lush to me, perhaps because it causes more of an overall feeling as a finished whole rather than its songs standing out on a track-by-track basis. Very rarely does an album manage to capture a sensation so wholly through the way in which the melodies, the lyrics and the rhythms all blend together like one organic whole, sounding as though they sprung fully-formed like some strange Siamese-triplet beast from the breast of a country-music-worshipping forest nymph to run naked through the woods of the deep southern U.S. before taking a lazy nighttime dip in the Mississippi river and setting up camp for the night on the edge of the prairie, wind whistling through the grass and wolves howling in the distance.

What can I say? Invitation Songs took a few listens to really get to grips with the unique nature of the vocals, but it is definitely worth the effort. It is both beautiful and shocking and is going to make a lot of bloggers’ top 10 lists come the end of 2008.

The Cave Singers – Helen

Posted by JustHipper on 26th February 2008 at 1:22 pm | comments (2)
File under CD Reviews,Reviews,the cave singers.

CD Review: Bob Mould – District Line (Beggars Banquet)

Bob Mould - District Line
I can’t say I’ve taken much notice of Bob Mould’s career since Hüsker Dü went their separate ways back in 1987. I never really liked his post-Hüskers band, Sugar, despite the fact that they seemed to enjoy much more success in indie quarters than their hugely influential predecessors, and, because of this, I never felt obliged to dabble in his solo work.

District Line is apparently a move back to the guitar-based indie rock that made his name back in the 80s and early 90s, after a couple of forays into techno territory. To these ears it certainly sounds very familiar. Solid opener “Stupid Now” gets things under way with its quiet verses and full-on rock chorus and by the end, Bob’s voice is cracking up under a blanket of warped effects. Epic break-up ballad “Again And Again” finds Bob on compelling form, backed by a wall of acoustic guitars and a mournful cello; it’s possibly the best thing on the album. Elsewhere, “Return To Dust” and “The Silence Between Us” come closest to replicating the sound and urgency of his pre-solo output and, not surprisingly, they are both superb.

On the downside, “Old Highs, New Lows” is a dull MOR ballad while “Shelter Me” is a plodding techno dirge with lashings of ugly vocoder, an effect that is also in evidence on the excellent “Very Temporary” and the upbeat acoustic pop of “Miniature Parade”, though its use on these songs is much more subtle and it doesn’t detract from them.

The album ends with “Walls In Time”, a song that’s been kicking around trying to find a proper home for 20 odd years, which is about as long ago as I last took an interest in Bob Mould’s work. It’s a meditation on the songwriting process and features more multi-tracked acoustics and more mournful cello. It’s a good end to a very good album and, although it won’t necessarily compel me to delve backwards into the Mould solo discography, I’ll certainly sit up and take notice of what he does next.

Bob Mould – The Silence Between Us

Bob Mould – Very Temporary

Hüsker Dü – New Day Rising

Posted by The Ledge on 11th February 2008 at 5:37 pm | comments (5)
File under bob mould,cd review,CD Reviews,district line,husker du,mp3,Reviews.

CD Review: Devastations, Yes, U (Beggars Banquet, 2007)

Devastations - Yes, UWhen you blog, the moment that other bloggers add you to their blogrolls, you start to get sent songs, and, occasionally, CDs. Most of this stuff is utter tripe from musicians who clearly haven’t taken the time to read the blogs they email and we ignore them. Occasionally, however, we get something worth shouting about, as is the case when a Beggars Banquet representative sent us a copy of Devastations forthcoming album, Yes, U.

We first heard of Devastations when we watched their set at All Tomorrow’s Parties back in April. It was good enough that I subsquently bought their last album, Coal. This record, for lack of a more succinct way of putting it, is like listening to the Australian Tindersticks, right down to the deep-voiced vocals, something that is not without its own moody, late-night appeal. Yes, U, however, represents a much more varied selection of styles, while maintaining the smokey, back-room, gin-soaked, dark and depressive appeal of its precursor.

From the opening track, the sultry ‘Black Ice’, which almost veers into trip hop, to ‘Oh Me, Oh My’, the sort of song you’d smother your lover with a pillow to, to ‘Rosa’, with its squealing guitars and feedback fighting for attention with the breathy, deep vocal, the album builds in intensity. The slow pace combined with the distortion and effects creates a sense of anticipation, despite the superficially mellow sound the band create. By the time you reach ‘The Face of Love’ with its alt country guitars you don’t know whether to slit your wrists or put on a smoking jacket and go drink martinis in a basement club. This is a Tindersticks album, co-written by Jack, made by Roxy Music and mixed by Portishead. This is dark moods and descriptions of human frailty and the darker side of love.

The closing duo of ‘The Saddest Sound’, crackly vocals and twangy guitars about loss and disappointment, followed by the instrumental ‘Misericordia’, where it seems that every instrument in the studio has gone into emotional meltdown, are just enough to leave you collapsed in a heap on the bedroom floor, desperate for a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of valium, all in black and white, with the sound of piano ringing in your ears.

Devastations – “Oh Me, Oh My”

Devastations – “Rosa”

Posted by JustHipper on 14th September 2007 at 2:42 pm | comments (20)
File under CD Reviews,mp3,Reviews.

Great Band, Shit Album #1: REM – New Adventures In Hi-Fi

New Adventures In Hi-Fi coverThis slight variation in our occasional Great Band, Shit Song feature has been inspired by this post on the excellent Song, by Toad blog, which, in turn, was inspired by a comment I made on this post on the same blog. It’s pretty much a given that REM’s two most recent albums, Reveal and Around The Sun, are their worst, but New Adventures In Hi-Fi, seems to have split the critical vote with well-respected bloggers like Toad’s Matthew and James from Yer Mam! coming down heavily in its favour, while I have some serious issues with it.

New Adventures In Hi-Fi was recorded on the final American leg of REM’s appropriately named Monster world tour of 1995, and is a mix of studio and live recordings, some recorded during soundchecks, one in the dressing room. The four studio tracks are, by and large, fine: the opening atmospherics of “How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us” sees the band brimming with new ideas and, for a moment at least, can justify the album’s title, as can “E-bow The Letter”, one of the best of their 90s output. “New Test Leper” is bright and melodic, which is not something you could say about much of the rest of the album. “Be Mine” I’ll deal with later.

A couple of songs aside, the rest of the album grinds me down, puts a cartoon black cloud over my head and makes me ever so slightly depressed. I can rarely get through it from start to finish. The rot usually sets in during the leaden “Undertow” and though alleviated a little by “E-bow”, returns for the lengthy, sprawling “Leave”. Now “Leave” isn’t a bad song at all, on its own it’s very good indeed, but when keeping close company with the likes of “Undertow” and the dire “Departure” its 7 minutes becomes a chore. The main problem with all these songs is in the way they sound and the absolute lack of variation in that sound, particularly Peter Buck’s ubiquitous overdriven guitar which, after a few songs, begins to seriously grate and by the time we reach the abysmal chorus of the “Bittersweet Me”, when Buck manages to find the knob on his effects pedal that makes suddenly makes the sound fives times more offensive, I’m usually reaching for the skip button.

There are occasional moments of brilliance that rise above the dark fog that envelops the the majority of the album. “The Wake-Up Bomb” has a cracking chorus but it is let down by Michael Stipe’s annoying vocal mannerisms in the verses (yes, I know he’s probably meant to sound like that given that he’s playing a braggart rock star but it’s still annoying). “Be Mine” is a great song but should have been saved for “Up” where, with a bit of drum machine and a dab of electronica, it would have shone. “Binky The Doormat” also has a decent chorus but Jesus, there’s that godawful guitar sound again grating against the phoned-in melody of the verses, and that title has to be worst that Stipe has ever come up with; that anyone has ever come up with. “Zither” is a typically redundant REM instrumental but it comes as blessed light relief after the turgid mess that has come before. “So Fast, So Numb” is another great chorus let down by a poor verse while the grungey “Low Desert” is so utterly forgettable that I’ve no idea what it goes like despite having listened to it many times, the last one being just a few minutes ago.

At the end of all this the band finally get it right with “Electrolite”, Mike Mills’ twinkling piano and Stipe’s effortless vocal melody, not to mention the beautiful violin break midway through, making up one of the finest moments of the band’s career. It was recorded at a soundcheck but it sounds like the band really put the effort into the sound and the arrangement. The other live tracks pale in comparison, they’re thick and bloated and lack any kind of variation or nuance, sounding as big and as empty as the stadiums they were recorded in. Had the band taken them into the studio and worked on them properly then they may have made a half decent album instead of the poorly conceived, poorly sequenced, overlong mess that is New Adventures In Hi-Fi.


REM – Bittersweet Me


REM – Electrolite

Posted by The Ledge on 16th March 2007 at 6:57 pm | comments (6)
File under CD Reviews,Reviews.

CD Review: Brett Anderson, Brett Anderson (Drowned In Sound, 2007)

I’ve received in my post bag a 5-track sampler from Brett Anderson’s forthcoming solo album (March 26, Drowned in Sound). Some of you may remember that I’ve been anticipating this record for a while as I was a huge Suede fan, I thought The Tears album was very good and I do genuinely think that Brett has a good album left in him somewhere. This record, however, if the promo sampler represents the highlights, is not it by a huge margin.

The lead single “Love Is Dead” is a soft, wave-your-hands-in-the-air ballad which reflects exactly the sentiment you’d expect from Brett and while it’s nice enough, brings nothing special or memorable with it. In fact the lines “plastic people wearing plastic smiles” is cringeworthy enough to make the rest of the song far from convincing. It actually gets worse from there. “One Lazy Morning” could not be more Brett-by-numbers if he retitled it “(The Litter Blowing past the Dust in the Breeze) One Lazy Morning.” It sounds like it was not good enough to even make the cut as one of the appalling Coming Up b-sides that make the second disc of Sci-Fi Lullabies such a disappointment. The chorus, “One lazy morning when life is a breeze am I gonna find Jesus in me?” is lazy songwriting of the most cringeworthy variety. This is after he discusses planes flying overhead leaving vapour trails. Musically, it’s sub-A New Morning, all acoustic guitars and string arrangements which are added to try and distract from the fact that far from being unremarkable, it’s so cliched Brett it’s like he didn’t even try.

“Scorpio Rising,” the track included in Brett’s acoustic YouTube series, is actually bearable if you discount the soft-rock leanings and the fact that it actually sounds a bit like “Winds of Change” by the Scorpions. While his voice sounds really fantastic, I can’t fail to disbelieve the over-earnest vocals that are laid over more post-Coming-Up-era slow balladry and it all blends into “To the Winter” quite blandly.

By far the most entertaining track, however, is the plodding rock thump of “Dust and Rain” which kind of reminds of me the abysmal “Streetlife” off A New Morning and boasts lyrics such as, “I am the dust, you are the rain. I am the needle and you are the vein; and this is the moment that words can’t explain….” And “And your love’s like an overdose with your hands wrapped around my throat, using sex like an antidote to the pain.” If this is all the energy he can emote for his music these days, either he’s gotten very old or he’s having the same reaction to his own songwriting that I am.

Brett himself has been describing this record as very raw and very personal but I just can’t see it. These tracks feel completely soulless, as if he’s scoured his back catalogue for every cliche that his fans might expect in hopes that he could disguise the fact that his heart really is not in this record. I think if he really made the record he would like this to have been he’d have had to open himself up far more than he’s managed since around 1994, he’d stop using the same tired cliches about rain and needles and dust and breeze and trees and beauty. I think that the album that he could make and should make about his life and world now wouldn’t still sound so firmly entrenched in the music he was making over a decade ago.

Brett Anderson – Dust and Rain

Brett Anderson – One Lazy Morning

EDIT: We’ve officially received our first “cease and desist” email from Drowned in Sound records who apparently don’t like us having them there. So, the MP3’s have come down as asked.

Posted by JustHipper on 13th February 2007 at 2:02 pm | comments (57)
File under CD Reviews,mp3,Reviews,Track Reviews.

One Line CD Reviews: We Are Scientists, Richard Hawley, Clor, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Death Cab for Cutie, The Chalets

Welcome to the one-line (or so) CD review. These are just some of the albums and singles we’ve been inflicting upon ourselves recently.

We Are Scientists, With Love and Squalor – It’s the completely unnecessary bastard child of Hot Hot Heat, These Animal Men and Powder. Americans doing Britpop with noisier guitars. The world could exist quite happily without We Are Scientists. Best avoided.

Richard Hawley, Coles Corner – How lovely can one man be? This is Frank Sinatra meets as sung by a Yorkshireman. It’s like a big warm, fluffy blanket in the middle of winter. Nobody else does this and nobody else could.

Clor, Clor – Devo meets Gary Numan meets Wire meets Franz Ferdinand as interpreted by art students with a real feel for melody. It’s ace!

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – This is the sound of David Byrne fronting The Smiths. The melodies are so fabulous that the singer’s slightly trying voice doesn’t matter one bit. Buy this now!

Death Cab For Cutie, Plans – Death Cab sounding like themselves only even poppier. You can’t improve on a great formula, only throw some major label money into it to make it more radio friendly. I still don’t understand why people keep calling this emo. Yay for Death Cab!

The Chalets, “No Style” – This could be the Irish B-52’s without the nasal whine of Fred Schneider. It’s catchy, it’s upbeat, it’s clever, it’s got a great tune, some fantastic girlie harmonies and is simply three and a half minutes of pop perfection.

Posted by JustHipper on 1st October 2005 at 4:28 pm | comments (1)
File under CD Reviews,Reviews.

CD Review: Editors – The Back Room

The Editors (sorry, I mean Editors) have the misfortune of emerging amidst a crop of very ’80’s-sounding indie guitar bands such as We Are Scientists, The Departure and The Fever. Fortunately for them, however, as their debut CD, The Back Room, demonstrates, Editors are by far the standout act amongst their peers. [Read On…] »

Posted by JustHipper on 21st August 2005 at 4:10 pm | comments (1)
File under CD Reviews,Reviews.

CD Review: The Decemberists – Picaresque

I am seriously developing an unhealthy obsession with the Decemberists. It all started innocently enough about 8 months ago. Ledge suggested we go see them performing with the Unicorns at the Night & Day. I was certain I’d heard one or two of their songs and I was somehow convinced that they were another of those bands that want so desperately to be Will Oldham that Ledge loves. But the Unicorns were charming enough so I agreed to go.

Now, if you’re familiar with the Decemberists, you’ll know how mistaken I was, as I was delighted to discover. They are more a fusion of indie rock, English folk and Americana which they combine together to create some of the most captivating and unusual songs I’ve heard in a long time. The gig was, needless to say, marvellous, probably helped by singer Colin Meloy’s obvious obsession with Morrissey. So we immediately purchased both Castaways and Cutouts and Her Majesty the Decemberists and took them away for perusal. Apart from loading the latter onto my MP3 player I really didn’t think much more of it, having about a billion other things to which I could listen.

Several months down the line we booked a holiday to Toronto and were delighted to discover the Decemberists were playing while we were there. So we bought tickets. This was the point at which I realised that maybe I should start listening to their albums. That and Ledge had acquired a copy of the charming 5 Songs EP and a copy of Colin Meloy’s rather remarkable collection of Morrssey covers. All I could think was, “Why haven’t I been playing these albums non-stop since we bought them?”

Maybe it’s the wistful depictions of childhood, or Meloy’s odd obsession with Victoriana and sailors, or his perfect voice, but this band cover territory probably not traversed since Herman Mellville and Charles Dickens. Furthermore, they do it with such charm and ability to get you singing along that I find it absolutely impossible not to love them, and believe me, I did try at the start, just to be difficult.

And this all brings us to their most recent creation, the wonderfully vivid Picaresque. This album is all the best things about the Decemberists condensed into one small package. It has soaring tales of mismatched 19th century love-leading-to-suicide, revenge on the high seas, giant whales, failed teenage athletes, and cold war espionage. It has accordians, violins, horns and some of the best harmonies on earth. And, it has some of the most original and triumphant songwriting you’re ever likely to encounter.

Just to give an indcation of just how much Picaresque has won me over: I haven’t listened to anything but the Decemberists in about 5 days. I’ve been going to sleep with their songs running through my head and waking up with their songs in my head. Yesterday morning I was walking around the house humming “The Infanta” and when I put on my MP3 player it was already cued up. Normally this non-stop echo in my head would have me tearing my hair out but I’m enjoying it. If I could have the album permanently beamed into my cerebellum I’d probably do it (although I suspect I would eventually regret it). Bands this unique and this captivating come along only rarely and we should take advantage of their genius when they do. So, to heed my own advice, as soon as I post this, I’m on my way downstairs to slot Picaresque into the hi-fi and superglue the lid shut.

Now I’m not sure whether this can really be classed as a review, but it does consist of the more coherent parts of my thoughts on the Decemberists. If you’ve not heard them, you really should. If you have, then you won’t need convincing anyway.

Posted by JustHipper on 16th July 2005 at 3:25 pm | comments (11)
File under CD Reviews,Reviews.