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Her Majesty the Decemberists

4 out of 5 stars 66 customer reviews

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Her Majesty The Decemberists
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Audio CD, September 9, 2003
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

For all intents and purposes, ''Her Majesty. . .'' could best be described as the charming older brother to the band's previous outing. And, while being recognizably related to its sibling predecessor, it is an altogether different beast. Present and accounted for are the Victorian literary tropes, the rakish mariners, and the Dickensian downtrodden that slouched their way across the lazer imprinted surface of ''Castaways and Cutouts''; in ''Her Majesty the Decemberists,'' a new cast of characters is introduced as well, giving further depth to the richly bizarre songcraft of the band's bespectacled leading player, Colin Meloy: an aristocratic Jewess, slumming it blindfolded among the exotic avenues of a Chinese bazaar, the coifed and coked-up bon vivants of greater Los Angeles, the writer Myla Goldberg, and a pair of affectionate soldiers, celebrating their comradery among the mortar blasts and trench mud of World War I Belgium. Musically, the band travels over new territory as well, mining deeper into their Beatlepop influences to create a record that is as lush as it is intricate. Strings soar, glockenspiels chime, and analog synths buzz over what the band considers its finest overture into pop song arrangement, all the while keeping intact the folk-pop instrumentation that has defined the sound of the band since its inception: Mr. Meloy returns on acoustic and electric guitars and singing, Jenny Conlee on accordion and keyboards, Chris Funk on electric guitars and sundry stringed instruments, and newcomers Rachel Blumberg and Jesse Emerson, respectively, contribute their drumming and upright bass playing.

Failing students have had such an influential role in shaping rock & roll that it's easy to give the bookworm segment short shrift. Witness the vital contributions from the likes of Ray Davies, the Zombies, and Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Magnum--the kind of smartypants songwriters with whom the Decemberists' Colin Meloy is often compared. The second full-length CD from Portland, Oregon's Decemberists certainly posits Meloy near the top of the current crop of literate indie rockers. Meloy is the brother of author Maile Meloy and a fellow whom one concludes has his own well-worn library card. Eschewing conventional pop-song subject matter, he delves deep into the past for his narratives and even his lexicon, witness "Shanty for the Arethusa," the high-seas opener, and "The Chimbley Sweep," which recalls the Zombies' similarly dark-hued "Butcher's Tale." Though the subject matter is frequently dire and the approach is lyrically erudite, one shouldn't conclude that listening to Her Majesty is the aural equivalent of wading through some dusty tome. Bright pop melodies, smart arrangements, and Meloy's commanding vocals adorn songs that are as inviting as they are astute and evocative. --Steven Stolder
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 9, 2003)
  • Original Release Date: 2003
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Kill Rock Stars
  • ASIN: B0000BWVMJ
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,223 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
On paper the Decemberists sound just ghastly: grad students play dress up, check into the Neutral Milk Hotel, and play the Chuck Dickens/Pirate Jenny songbook as sung by Rufus Wainwright imitating Neil Young.
Yet it was love at first accordion wheeze when I encountered them as an opening act. On stage, they're the sweet American cousins of the Mekons and the Go-Betweens, radiating intelligence and shades of dark anarchy in everything they do. I got 2002's excellent Castaways & Cutouts at the merch table that night and immediately fell in love with the haunting (literally) opening track "Leslie Ann Levine," a lament from a dead girl's point-of-view.
Specters from the past are the key to Her Majesty the Decemberists. Songwriter Colin Meloy looks through their eyes to shed light on the darkness of our age. The conceit confuses at first: what are whalebone corsets, radios, telephones and pantaloons doing in the same song? Is that '70s wah-wah guitar and crunchy electric piano I hear amid sea chanteys and old country reels? The Decemberists' Victorian mirror provides a tantalizing, innocent and often deceiving distance to songs about sexual slumming ("Shanty for the Arethusa"), voyeurism and Onanism ("Billy Liar"), emotional sadism ("The Bachelor and the Bride"), the homoerotic thrill of warmongering - just ask Bush and Blair - ("The Soldiering Life"); and a love song to that ultimate city as strumpet, L.A. ("Los Angeles, I'm Yours").
That last song is the album's real standout. Strumming Elton John's Bennie and the Jets vamp on his guitar, Meloy's 18th century busker stands as an evangelical emissary on the corner of Sunset and Vine who blushes as girls with bare midriffs and boys with jeans nearly to their knees slouch on by. ("I can see your undies!" he intones, hilariously.
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Format: Audio CD
I like a band that doesn't seem to be trying to be anything except whatever the hell they are. This is the opposite of, say, Wilco, a fine, talented bunch of people who never tire of showing us all the sounds they can ape perfectly. It's so very very good, but so what?

Colin Meloy is an original, with a confident, goofy voice. He sings his sad, slightly mean, theatrical songs with no apologies. And why should he apologize? The best stuff gets better the more you listen. On one pass, it was just interesting enough to get a second... on the second, hmmm, there's some interesting stuff here... next thing I knew, it was living in the car player, with each listen convincing me of the brilliance of another song.

If you like to be beaten over the head, forget about the Decemberists. But if you're willing to give effort to material that rewards it, check it out.
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Aren't we all but the sums of our influences? Not listening to these guys because Neutral Milk Hotel "already did it" is stupid. You might as well not listen to Willie Nelson because Johnny Cash "already did it."

Make it a draw and buy this album AND Neutral Milk Hotel. Listen to them both and be amazed.
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With the turn of the century everything old is new again, with bands like The Killers, Bloc Party, Interpol, and Fall Out Boy embracing their 80s roots and improving upon them, there is a lot of terrific music out there. But nothing compares to The Decemberists.

The melodic, fully developed sound is mixed with lyrics that embrace your inner English major -- this band has it all. They use an accordion, for crying out loud! I chose to write regarding this album, which contains one of my favorites 'The Bachelor and The Bride,' but really all of their albums are exceptional.

There is no way for me to recommend this band enough. If I could go door to door hawking their albums like an English 19th century milkmaid, I would. But here's good too.

If I was trapped in an elevator this music would keep me sane at least until my ipod died.

Invest some time in The Decemberists, they are worth getting to know.
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I'm not sure if I understand why everyone (reviewers, listeners, etc.) insists on comparing the Decemeberists with Neutral Milk Hotel. Short of blatantly derivative/plaigaristic music, there is absolutely no reason to fault an album for sharing a few superficial characteristics with another album. Yes, both Colin Meloy and Jeff Magnum are highly literate songwriters that don't write love songs and sing with a British affectation, but other than that there is really no basis to any of the absurdly scathing reviews that denounce the brilliant "Her Majesty the Decemberists" as unoriginal.
That rant aside, you, the reader, should definitely buy this album. Breaking free of many existing pop cliches, the Decemberists choose to write songs about Victorian-era characters backed by skillful instrumentation. The keyboardist/accordianist Jenny Conlee is a standout, and her virtuosity never fails to please, while the bassist and drummer (Nate Query and Rachel Blumberg, respectively) do solid jobs with the rhythm work. The real standout, though, is Colin Meloy, whose songwriting provides the album its atmospheric core. "Los Angeles, I'm Yours" is a brilliantly veiled ode/tirade to its titular city, with a strong guitar backbone, while the hauntingly beautiful "The Gymnast, High Above the Ground" is simply one of the best songs I've heard in years. And while "Song For the Myla Goldberg" drowns in its own literary cleverness, lost in an uninteresting melody, the rest of the album is so wonderful that it doesn't even matter.
And yes, I do like Neutral Milk Hotel, but I am also capable of liking other bands, even if their lead singers sound vaguely similar.
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