The Decemberists put on an incredible live show. JD, Tommy and I saw them at Sasquatch Festival a few years back, and the audience was completely under their spell. It was quite a thing to behold.
A new Decemberists album this spring means a new Decemberists tour (May 20, Fox Theater in Oakland), which should be a cause for much rejoicing, but I'm more than a little skeptical for one major reason: At these shows, the band will play their new album from start to finish. At every show. And that's it.
This could be great. I have no reason to believe their new album will be anything but excellent. The band will no doubt add certain flourishes to the songs after weeks on the road that will almost definitely create a unique live experience. Still, though ... I like old Decemberists songs. I'd like to hear some of them.
Specifically, these are my ten favorites:
10) "O Valencia!" from The Crane Wife
One of the two highlights on an otherwise horrible attempt at prog-rock. My Decemberists fandom barely survived this album.
9) "The Rake Song" from The Hazards of Love
First song leaked from the new album, and it's great.
8) "The Infanta" from Picaresque
Opening track from my favorite Decemberists album.
7) "Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect" from Castaways and Cutouts
This one actually made Pitchfork's Top 500 songs from 1977-Present. Lyrically, one of their best: "We are vagabonds / We travel without seatbelts on / We live this close to death"
6) "Crane Wife 3" from The Crane Wife
The other highlight from that aforementioned waste of an album. This one has been used in a few too many TV montages, and some would claim this makes it sappy, but I think that, in the able hands of the band, it survives its brush with the "Bad Day" / "Beautiful" abyss.
5) "Los Angeles, I'm Yours" from Her Majesty the Decemberists
I like just about any song dealing with the psychological ramifications of the very existence of LA (though my favorite is probably still "Why You'd Want to Live Here" by Death Cab for Cutie). Speaking of being drawn toward an abyss, these lyrics are all about wanting something you know you shouldn't: "An ocean's garbled vomit on the shore / Los Angeles, I'm yours"
4) "Valerie Plame" from Always the Bridesmaid EP
Along with "The Arm" by Islands, this song is the clear people's choice from Aaron's 100 Songs for 2008. And it really is like liquid joy. But you already know this.
3) "Sixteen Military Wives" from Picaresque
The best song on their best album, complete with an awesome mock-UN video. The "America can / And America can't say no" chours is undoubtedly the best hook the band has ever written.
2) "Apology Song" from 5 Songs EP
A lot of bands make their livings on indecipherable lyrics and explanations that only half make sense. This song is none of those things. As Colin explained it at Sasquatch, it's just a song he wrote for a friend when the friend's bicycle got stolen. You don't have to plumb the depths of unviersal truths to write a great song, apparently.
1) "July, July!" from Castaways and Cutouts
For the same reason that most of you will listen to all ten of these songs and still claim "Valerie Plame" is your favorite, this one holds down the top spot in large part because it was the first Decemberists song I ever heard. Also because it's a euphoric, driving pop song with lyrics like "And I say your uncle was a crooked French-Canadian / And he was gutshot running gin." What's not to love?