You only need to look at independent music’s recent catalog of groups who modify their sound in order to line their label’s pockets with money and enjoy the the comfortable life being on a major label affords you. Don’t believe it? Then ask the disenfranchised fans of R.E.M., Modest Mouse, and Death Cab for Cutie how they feel about the quality of output from their favorite band.
This is what makes The Decemberists latest album The Crane Wife, their first for Capitol, such an enigma. The tracks appear to be out of sequence (The opening track is called “The Crane Wife 3,” which is eight tracks before “The Crane Wife 1 & 2,” there are two tracks over the decade mark, and the unifying theme is supposed to be about an obscure Chinese folk tale, but you would never know unless you did some research (The liner notes don’t offer many clues.). The Decemberists’ leader Colin Meloy has created the absolute antithesis to a major label debut. This album is not meant to follow trends, but to be studied and pondered over by the listener for an extended period of time. It would be easy to file The Crane Wife under progressive-revivalists, since the eclectic instrumentals, swirling keyboards, and storybook lyrics make it feel like an early Genesis album, but once you think you have a five-word summary to sum up the album, another track like “O Valencia!” its bubbly pop form. The Crane Wife is a courageous, defiant, and whimsical record that commands your attention, and your intimidation.