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The Crane Wife
Artist: The Decemberists
Label: Rough Trade (UK)
10 tracks / 60 minutes
Little by little, prog is losing its stigma and bands like The Decemberists are certainly playing their part in rejuvenating most of its best bits.
Most strikingly they are free to let their imaginations loose, using the right sounds for the right moods on the right songs, most of which feature alt-folk timbres from accordion, bouzoukis, banjo, pump organ, hudy-gurdy and cello alongside some atmospheric guitar.
Longest track “The Island” is really three separate parts. Beginning with a clumpy prog riff that picks up a guitar effect from Wings' Band on the Run, it takes on an early Genesis organ sound before finishing with a simple, quiet folky guitar-led section.
“Yankee Bayonet” sees Laura Viers duet on a wonderful song that tells a tale of a dead soldier keeping his eye on his girlfriend and unborn child.
This is just one of several dark and quirky stories involving crossed lovers, criminals and dangerous waters. The title track is based on a Japanese folk tale about a man who sees a wounded crane and takes her home, tends and then marries her. At home, however, the bird becomes trapped when money is tight, being forced to work all day long at weaving until her feathers drop out.
Colin Meloy seems to be having huge fun finding the lyrics that bring the right amount of mystery and atmosphere to these songs. He manages to rhyme dirigible with untraceable and aluminum with cinnamon, but even sweeter is his turn of phrase. You can picture the menace when he describes the Shankhill Butchers as “picking at their fingers with their knives / and wiping off their cleavers on their thighs”.
In an upside-down logic, the disc begins with the third part of The Crane Wife, the downbeat end of the story, but it does close with the rousing anthem “Sons and Daughters”.
This will not be ousted from its perch as one of the most enjoyable – if morbid – albums of the year.