NPR FOR THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t

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BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER: Among people who like that sort of thing, Colin Meloy – ringleader of the Portland, Ore.-based folk-pop collective the Decemberists – is the most satisfyingly literary songwriter to emerge in recent memory. Others find his tune-smithing to be cloying and contrived, like an English-class apple-shiner who makes sure that his essays always incorporate alliteration, onomatopoeia and at least three examples of simile and metaphor – just because he can. A bookish, blocky man with an owlish countenance and the physique of a chatroom habitue, Meloy writes songs best described as historic pulp fiction, a faux remembrance of all things past. They’re usually set in some exotic milieu – an antebellum romance here, a sepia-toned Dickensian character study there. Usually, bands like the Decemberists are too clever for primetime, but this is one of the most popular bands of the Pitchfork indie-rock era. The band sold out the Electric Factory late last year, and the crowd sang along with every quatrain. The Decemberists takes its name from a group of 19th-century Russian revolutionaries, but at the Factory they looked like they couldn’t overthrow a lemonade stand. Performing beneath glowing paper lanterns and a wall-size backdrop of an ancient Chinese monastery, Meloy and his merry band ran down the bulk of their three full-lengths, the most-excellent Picaresque and Her Majesty and the new, and not necessarily improved, The Crane Wife. The problem with the new album is that it trades the band’s immaculate folk-pop for ill-advised forays into prog and funkiness – never a wise move for whiter-shade-of-pale types like Meloy. Still, you have to give Meloy and Company credit for going their own way. And on the eve of the mid-term election, in that desperate, hopeful moment, who better to lead a roomful of twentysomethings through a sing-along of “we will arise from the bunkers… hear the bombs fade away” than an earnest young man armed with nothing more than a smile and a lute?

FRESH AIR: Colin Meloy Of The Decemberists

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