Half Notes: The Decemberists – The Crane Wife (2006)

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by Tom Johnson

I really wondered what the move to Capitol Records would do to the Decemberists. Would they turn in something less than stellar, as happened with Death Cab For Cutie on their major label debut, Plans? Or would they stick to their guns and thrive with a bigger budget and more room to experiment in an environment that typically doesn’t allow much wiggle room for that? Happily, the latter is what happened> Perhaps Picaresque being a letdown to me (and I know I was one of the few) should have been a sign that this band needed bigger hoops to jump through. Well, they must have found them because The Crane Wife was, simply put, astounding and, in fact, a very surprising album to be found as a major label debut: They took a lot of chances. Here we find them exercising the expansive traits first found on the Tain EP, which sadly disappeared with Picaresque. With The Crane Wife, we find multi-part songs and two lengthy (we’re talking 12 minutes here) epics. There are even prog rock-inspired keyboard solos (gasp! horror!) in the three part “The Island.” Also be prepared for the Decemberists homage to Talking Heads in the form of “The Perfect Crime #2” — because the music sure sounds a hell of a lot like “New Feeling.” And somehow, despite the horrible cacophony you might imagine in your head, it works.

Half Notes is a quick-take music feature on Something Else! Reviews, presented whenever the mood strikes us.

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