When you think of The Decemberists, burning eroticism is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. (Or maybe it does, I don’t know what you’re into.) But if this Decemberists song were a novel, it would be an historical bodice ripper (or, at the very least, some very adult Anne of Green Gables fan fic.) A tale of forbidden love set in some prudish isolated community in mid-1800’s Montana, in which the ambitious young schoolteacher falls clandestinely in love with the postmaster’s lonely unwed daughter. It doesn’t have to be the kind of book that has the title printed in cursive, slightly raised, lavender letters. It could, in fact, be serious work of highbrow fiction, preferably written by Louise Erdrich or Annie Proulx. Or, oh, maybe Maile Meloy. Or Colin himself. I’m starting to really want to read this book. Maybe I should just write it myself.

The Perfect Crime No.2

Nobody exceeds at the fine art of narrative songs like the Decemberists. Small wonder Colin Meloy writes children’s books in his spare time; I haven’t read them but I would and I would read any adult book he might write. In the meantime, we can enjoy the most literary canon in pop music right now. The Decemberists’  discography is more like a miniature library stuffed with novels, leaning heavily towards historical fiction, but also not without the serious family dramas, not without explorations of folklore, not without the fantasy epic, and not without the occasional hard boiled crime thriller. If the diversity of subjects and genres is any clue, I’d guess that Meloy is the kind of person who picks up boxes of books at garage sales and behind dumpsters, then reads all of them.

O Valencia!

I love a good narrative song, and a good blood feud, and a good updating of Romeo and Juliet. And all of those things in one, of course. This being The Decemberists, though, the tale of gang rivalry is about as raw-nerve relevant as the misadventures of the Ancient Mariner. That is, an intellectual curiosity, a quizzical stretch of the poetic imagination. Hence the music video that’s more Wes Anderson than anything that might occur in the real world, or even on an episode of The Sopranos. But we don’t turn to The Decemberists for verisimilitude or social commentary; they occupy the intellectual high ground of the NPR demographic, the elite circle of New Yorker subscribers, the endangered American Proffessitariat. We are the demimonde who reward ourselves for getting each other’s obscure literary references with an extra helping of Pinot Noir. We sagely pretend to remember a time when Gore Vidal was relevant. We care deeply and hypothetically about social issues we’ve never experienced. We know what tagliatelle is and how to pronounce it. Colin Meloy is our rock god.

The Best of 2015

Part One. The Albums.

The less said about 2015 the better, and 2016 has already established itself as the worst year in all of recorded history. But at least we still have music.

  1. I Love You, Honeybear – Father John Misty


Mark my words, Father John Misty is going to take his place as one of the most important living artists in the canon. In fact, on the strength of only two albums (at least under that name and persona), he kind of already is. I can’t think of a better songwriter, capable of the most intense romanticism and the darkest sarcasm. A great voice, a sexy look, a charismatic presence, a rock star who hits all the points.

Bored in the U.S.A.

Chateau Lobby #4 (In C for Two Virgins)

I Love You, Honeybear


2. What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World – The Decemberists


The Decemberists’ hiatus didn’t last too long, thank goodness. The world needs their brand of hyper-literate musical anachronism. In a culture where erudition often seems to hold no value, it’s pleasing to see the erudite succeed outside the small circle of the NPR crowd. See, Americana can still be a relevant influence!

Make You Better

The Wrong Year

Carolina Low


3. Strangers to Ourselves – Modest Mouse


The hiatus of Modest Mouse was a long one, and hard to take. Promises of new material were made and rescinded. The words ‘long overdue’ were on everyone’s lips. When it finally came, it didn’t disappoint. Modest Mouse are up to their usual weirdness, mixing the catchy with the abrasive.

Lampshades on Fire

The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box


4. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit – Courtney Barnett


It’s been a couple years since songs from Courtney Barnett’s EP began getting play on indie radio, but this full length debut was most people’s first introduction to her music. Now the world is heralding the arrival of a very major talent. As the title of the records suggests, Barnett’s talent is spinning wordy, witty songs out of the mundane, all delivered in a heavily accented deadpan sing-speak reminiscent of Lou Reed, if he had been born a snarky Australian lesbian with bangs.

Pedestrian At Best

Dead Fox

Nobody Really Cares if You Don’t Go to the Party

5. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful – Florence and the Machine


The title of the album refers to the Pacific Ocean, but it could refer to Florence herself; a force of nature. She’s grown into a bona fide Major Artist since her debut, and it seems she’s still gaining momentum, if this third album is any sign. I’ve rarely seen anyone so commanding, and especially someone so young. As a performer, she was born to fill coliseums, yet despite its grandiosity her music retains intimacy.

What Kind of Man

Ship to Wreck

Queen of Peace


6. Dodge and Burn – The Dead Weather


Not even entirely new material, but new to us, and that’s enough. The Dead Weather churned out more material than one record could hold when they were at their most active. This is the overflow, with some new jams thrown in. It certainly doesn’t feel like leftovers. Alison Mosshart remains a goddess of the highest caliber, a love child of the lizard king.

I Feel Love (Every Million Miles)

Be Still

Three Dollar Hat


7. I Thought the Future Would Be Cooler – Yacht


An unfairly under the radar release from socially conscious electro Utopians Yacht. Claire L. Evans is an electropop genius, from her pixie cyborg style to her witty take on the issues of modern life. This is music you can dance to and think about at the same time. And it’s not without the kind of romantic sentiment a classy lady can get behind, either. How Yacht isn’t basking in fame, I have no idea, but I love this record so much I actually paid for it. So.

I Though the Future Would Be Cooler

I Wanna Fuck You Till I’m Dead

War On Women

8. The Fool – Ryn Weaver


A debut from a new talent I hadn’t even heard of until recently. Ryn Weaver is a singer who broke into my consciousness as an opening act for Billy Idol. So right away you know that she rocks. She also has impressive songwriting ability, a varied palette of influences and a voice that that brings to mind everything from the tremolos of folk singers like Judy Collins, to the breathy sultriness of Lana Del Rey, to the open-throated high notes of Florence Welch herself.




9. Vulnicura – Bjork


Bjork had been lying low for a while, but now she returns to purge the experience of her separation from Matthew Barney. So, here’s Bjork’s take on the classic genre of Big Divorce Album. As expected it’s a soundscape of emotion, with cryptic lyrics and surreal atmosphere, and of course, support from friends like Antony Hegarty, always on hand to bring a touch of the otherworldly.

Black Lake


Mouth Mantra

10. Sound & Color – Alabama Shakes


Here’s a band that went from near-unknown to everybody’s favorite in a blink of an eye. But you can’t say they don’t deserve it. If it seems like the throughline of rhythm and blues has gotten lost in the last two or three decades, well, it turns out it hasn’t. To call it ‘retro’ would be too obvious; it’s a reminder that roots music will never not be relevant.

Don’t Wanna Fight

Gimme All Your Love

Future People



Good news, everybody! The Decemberists are back. Their hiatus turned out not as long as I had feared. Colin Meloy has apparently satisfied his urge to become an acclaimed children’s book author. Ready to be a rock star again, Colin? Welcome back, then. The band hasn’t changed much in the four years they’ve been away, and that’s all to the good. Musically, they still sound like late sixties English folk revivalists who took too many drugs and moved to California; a less dysfunctional amalgam of Jethro Tull and Fleetwood Mac, perhaps. Lyrically, they’re still smarter than you. Which is just what we want from them. In a world full of rock stars who can barely string together a coherent sentence, we need someone who writes with the confidence of a proud English major. As always, a Decemberists album is an intellectual experience that requires deep parsing and multiple go-rounds to fully digest, and this one promises to be satisfying.

Leslie Anne Levine

Supremely depressing, Colin Meloy. It’s like a very, very gloomy miniature version of one of those Victorian-era novels about how bad the world is. Like Charles Dickens or one of his imitators, who cast a light on the ugliness of society and the woes that befall unfortunate children. Woe upon the fallen woman, and woe upon the wastrel who did her wrong, and most of all, woe upon the child who has the misfortune of being theirs! And woe upon chimney sweeps! Such are the things The Decemberists like to write about, and thank goodness for it, for I have not the inclination to read an actual hefty Victorian novel, but I do like to have a small taste now and then, if only to remind myself of my own fortune at not having lived anywhere in the vicinity of the Industrial Revolution.

The Legionnaire’s Lament

I believe that this is the first song by The Decemberists that I ever heard. I may be wrong and there may have been some other before, but this is the one that I sat up and noticed. I think it popped up on some esoteric radio program, probably something on NPR. The details are hazy. All I recall was loving it and not knowing what it was. I didn’t find out what it was until a long time later, but I held on to the memory of it as ‘that one song that really struck me’. It was one of those cases when I could hardly believe that anything could be so good, and then feeling even more struck that something so good could be on the radio. I thought, surely it must be some fluke, some accident of fate, that this song is on the radio, because this song is quite simply, too good to be on the radio. That sort of lightning bolt moment doesn’t happen very often. In fact, the only other time I had a similarly strong reaction was the first time I heard Lady Gaga sing Poker Face. Fortunately indeed, I did eventually end up hearing The Decemberists again, as they have wound up being inexplicably popular and well known. It turned they have many songs that rival this one in wit, intelligence, and elevated vocabulary. This one will just always be special because I carried it in my head for so long without knowing from whence it came or if I would ever hear it again.