The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
October 3rd was a big day for album releases (Hold Steady, Killers, Beck) and in an effort to catch-up a little, it is high-time I posted something on my favorite album to be released that day and one of my favorite albums of 2006. Having been in heavy rotation for well over a month, I have no reservation in placing this album among the highest tier albums released this year.
The Crane Wife is the Decemberists major label debut and is yet another strong effort from Colin Meloy's troupe. This album continues the tradition of the band topping itself with every release and considering that Picaresque was one of my Top 10 albums of 2005, this was/is no easy task. The Decemberists really have their work cut out for themselves next time around, as The Crane Wife is a truly impressive work.
The album opens perfectly with "The Crane Wife 3" and doesn't look back. The pacing and track sequencing is nearly flawless and there is a musical versatility present that helps the band fully realize strengths only hinted at on previous albums. The multi-part, 12+ minute prog epic "The Island" which is divided into three parts ("Come and See/The Landlord's Daughter/You'll Not Hear the Drowning") builds slowly, yet purposefully and hits it climax when Meloy unleashes a "La-aaahhh" falsetto, which is unlike anything else we've heard from him to this point and one of the album's finest moments. Other highlights include "O, Valencia!", one of their best straight-forward pop songs to date, "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)" a strong folk-rock duet with singer-songwriter Laura Veirs, and "Summersong" a bittersweet ode to the end of (you guessed it) the summer.
The "Crane Wife" series is divided into 3 parts and comprised of 2 songs (with parts 1 & 2 grouped together). The aforementioned "The Crane Wife 3" is great tune and a perfect selection to open the album, but still slightly pales in comparison to first part in this series. "The Crane Wife 1" begins as a finger-picked folk ballad with a great vocal melody and slowly crescendos into the track's soaring chorus, which is one of the best and most memorable on the album. I happen to agree with Derek from Good Weather for Airstrikes in that part 1 is much stronger than part 2 and the album could have probably benefited from separating these songs into individual tracks.
"Sons And Daughters" closes the album on a high note and completes what can only be described as an "impressively realized song cycle". Colin Meloy's superb songwriting (highlighted by hyper-literate lyrics and the usual cast of rogues, thieves, and star-crossed lovers) are the focal point of much of the record, but it may be the fact that rest of the band are able to spread their wings a bit that makes The Crane Wife their best album yet.
Buy the album here.