New Years Day(-ish) is for New Things. (and Transitions)
Todays post contains something Old, and something New. A transitional state. Tomorrow will have one of the most exciting new bands to cross my path in some time. But today, something many of you have likely been waiting for. Some of it, you probably never even knew you were waiting for.
Once There Was a Boy Named Colin
Tarkio - Sister Nebraska - Colin was a young man from Montana. Much enamored of Music, and of the writing thereof, Colin formed a band. That band would go by the name of Tarkio. It was pretty standard alt-country fare, though Colin never did try for the sort of affected twang that too many Johnny Cash and Uncle Tupelo tried for. Instead, in a rich, expressive voice, he sang of cold winters and pigeon toed girls. Leaving behind memories of the coast as he moved inland. The music was good, but it never did reach the audience it could. The doors wallking off Alt-country fromt he rest of the music world hadn't yet been kicked down, completely, and while the country kids were clearly taking an interest in what was going on in the rock world (evidenced by the song you'll be hearing in a moment), the rock world hadn't yet really taken an interest in them. What's really notable here is the lyrics though. Colin had a storytelling style rivaled by few other singers, which fit perfectly into the sort of western gothic ouever towards which he was headed - alternately modern and rustic, twangy and anthemic, it's great stuff... but it wasn't enough. Also, by way of dedication, this one goes out in congratulation to my good buddies Ben & Lesley, Omahas favorite Son & Daughter as far as I'm concerned, who, since last I posted, have become engaged.
Tarkio - Eva Luna - Colin did know how to write rock songs though. Eva Luna is a killer one. It sounds a bit dated now, but for an album released in 1998, it sounds perfectly of it's time. The song is all kick drums and chiming, melodic guitars, and of course, Colins lyrics, full of all the wierdly surrealistic and yet shockingly concrete imagery. There's a very literary sensibility here - not terribly surprising, considering his background and degreen in Creative writing, but nonetheless refreshing in a world of more or less generic lyrical work - or hopelessly pointlessly obscure ala Interpol (Stabbing Yourself in the Neck?).
No They'll Never Catch Me Now
But nowadays, everyone knows who Colin is. And everyone wants to hear some of his new material. And who am I but a humble servant to oblige. These next two tracks are down. The reviews will remain for posterity.
The Decemberists - The Mariners Revenge Song (Bloggers Note: Sorry, this track is down. You missed it.) - Our hero Colin eventually grew tired of the great inland expanses though, and moved to the shore. And when he reached said shore, he ditched the country music. Instead, his new band, the Decemberists, drew attention both for his lyricism, and for a charming anachronism that led to many accusations of Colins Meloy being a writer of "Sea Chanteys" - or just another Jeff Mangum knockoff. Well, Picaresque moves farther away from Mangum territory, but it does so by making the music more literary than ever. These are concrete stories with identifiable charachters - I wouldn't be surprised to read a story like "The Mariners Revenge Song" in a pulp mag - hell, you wouldn't even need to rewrite it. It works just fine without a single word changed. And OH is it a Sea Chantey. Accordions and violins, and Meloys voice ringing out like a trumpet over it all. The story is exactly what the title would indicate, the tale of a sailor obsessed with vengance against his stepfather, the man who had abandoned him and his mother. As the tale concludes, we are trapped in the belly of a whale with these two men of the sea, watching as our titular mariner, finally, gleefully extracts his revenge, and we are left, dancing and singing along, to a scene of delighted, maniacl, frenetic, musical torture.
The Decemberists - The Bagmans Gambit (Bloggers Note: Sorry, this track is down. You missed it.) - And yet, Picaresque is not just another album of Sea Chanteys. It's not Her Majesty Pt. II, and it's not The Tain LP either. The Bagmans Gambit is just as epic, but it's concerns are far more powerful and modern, and proves that for the Decemberists, instrumentation is not a cage, but rather seems chosen to suit whatever story Colin has thought up most recently. And in the case of "The Bagman's Gambit" it's "The Spy I Loved". The song opens with a quiet, simple acoustic guitar melody, as Colin sings the story of his beloved secret agent. He talks of being a pawn in the great game, of rendezvous in bathroom stalls, and of more tender moments. The song is beautiful, but it's too mournful for such happy memories - there's darkness lurking here. Something has gone sour. And when the chorus comes in, we know what. The ever boastful spy must have been captured, for dreams of his boasts begin to dominate the song. The story is filled in as the song progresses, and concludes with meloy reaching for - and fittingly failing on that long, high note. There's something in the striving that is somehow more bautiful though, more aching, the pain becomes more real, the subtle flourish of a violin, the wild cathartic chorus, contrasted with the quiet power of the narrative verses. This may be my favorite of any Decemberists song I've ever heard.
[Picaresque doesn't come out for a while yet, but you can buy other stuff by the Decemberists while you're waiting. And, Colin has also written a great little book about the Replacements which you should all read.]