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Fantasy filled music

The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Oct. 20, 2006
The Decemberists

Review by Andy Argyrakis

Now that the shock waves have settled relating to The Decemberists signing to a major label, it's important to judge the group's latest disc by its own merit, not based on the name plastered down the product spine. Like all the group's previous projects, its latest endeavor is ripe with imagery and a slew of stylistic switch-ups that run the magical gamut of folk rock, swelling pop, Celtic remnants and even hints of progressive rock. Though not necessarily a concept album, each track is roughly inspired by the Japanese folk tale The Crane Wife and is loaded with fantasy filled lyricism loaded with epic storylines, poetic phrasing and quirky characters.

The title cut launches the listening experience on a somewhat straightforward note with "The Crane Wife 3," which boasts the folk flavored jangle pop of early R.E.M. as it traces front man Colin Meloy's interpretation of the legend. Oddly enough, the prequel to this track occurs later in the disc with "The Crane Wife 1 & 2," a sweeping 11-minute affair that runs most of its duration as an acoustic ballad before picking up with progressive insistence reminiscent of more melodic Yes. Those prog nuances pick up with power come "When the War Came," bearing slight resemblance to the dreamy sonics of Pink Floyd criss crossed with Meloy's spellbinding, mantra-like chants.

While all of these instances are incredibly expressive, intriguing and a natural progression from The Decemberists' last indie album Picaresque, the band does walk a fine line between brilliant and bizarre at times. "The Island" is the most overt example stretching over thirteen minutes and three complex sections, though the lyrics tell an uncomfortable tale of abduction, rape and murder. In one sense, the building tensions and sharp instrumental shifting are a musical triumph, though that ominous cloud on this (along with the similarly themed banjo ballad "Shankhill Butchers") drops down the enjoyment level. But Meloy and his mates can quickly be forgiven because they remain a challenging, cohesive and cutting edge combination. And for those wondering what Capitol adds to the equation, absolutely no negatives relating to artistic squandering, but rather resources to spread the band's diversity and craftiness to the masses.

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