Mendelsohn: The Decemberists have a unique gift, Klinger. They are able to take a myriad of disparate genres, thematic material, diverse ideas and turn it into a cohesive work of art. And I’m not talking a little genre-bending or obscure references. The group’s 2006 album The Crane Wife is chock-full of historical and literary references ranging, in no particular order, from a Japanese fairy tale, tales of death and love lost covering the last 300 years — including a trip to colonial times, the Civil War and a modern day forbidden love not unlike Romeo and Juliet. There are also a songs about an an Ulster loyalist group from the 1970s, the World War II siege of Leningrad, and another one detailing a well-planned heist of unnamed goods. All of this is splayed out over some combination for folk rock, prog rock, plain old rock rock and some sweet pop thrown in for good measure. The Crane Wife is also the band’s debut on a major label, marking a shift from being indie darlings with a penchant for folk ditties to major-label players pushing a very diverse set of influences into the mainstream.
And, if that wasn’t enough, The Crane Wife comes off as a cohesive set, loosely connected through lyrical material yet widely divergent from start to finish. Maybe the most impressive part of the entire affair is that this album comes off as meticulously put together but never plays down to the listener who might have no idea what the Colin Meloy, the lead singer and songwriter of the band, is referencing at any given moment. I hope you were paying attention, Klinger, there will be a quiz later.