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The Decemberists Ranked

I know they can be a little bit theatrical (to say the least), but The Decemberists have always been one of the most consistent and appreciable indie acts out there during my lifetime. This list reflects my current view, because it has shifted significantly since 2006 when I first started listening to them. From what I've heard of the upcoming album, I'm guessing it will fall somewhere in the top half of this list.
6The Decemberists
Her Majesty the Decemberists

If meandering tempo and low-key production is your game, then this is for you. For lack of a better adjective, Her Majesty just sounds dry. Now therein also lie some good qualities: for one, it's not the overproduced mess that some people felt The Hazards of Love was. It's basic, bare-bones folk with a slight flair for story-telling. It's interesting at times ('Los Angeles, I'm Yours', 'The Gymnast, High Above The Ground') but more often than not it fails to make an impact. Worth a passing glance for the casual fan; otherwise this is reserved for Decemberists diehards.
5The Decemberists

It should be noted that even as one of my lower dwellers on this list, Picaresque is still an excellent album. Perhaps I just heard it at the wrong time, as it followed The Crane Wife in my personal sequence of discovery. However, it just feels like The Crane Wife lite. It's more over-the-top, but there's less experimenting going on musically. It's probably one of the catchiest albums they've released - on par with The Hazards of Love - but it lacks sensationalized, grandiose nature of that record. It may actually be the best representation of The Decemberists as a whole, but for all of the aspects that it contains, none of them shine quite as brightly as their counterparts on other records. '16 Military Wives' remains the top track to jam from this.
4The Decemberists
The Hazards of Love

Full blown theatrics, and I mean that in the best way possible. The Hazards of Love is like all of those other deplorable, self-aggrandizing concept albums that you most likely loathe, but the difference lies in how well the concept here is executed from a musical perspective. There's more than enough substance here to back up the storyline, and it's achieved through an interesting mix of British folk revival and heavier rock n' roll in a classical vein. On top of that, the give and take between narrative singing and ambient instrumental contributions is brilliant. 'The Wanting Comes In Waves' is the culmination of all of these swell ideas, and it is far and away the most epic thing the band has ever done. Even if The Hazards of Love doesn't consistently live up to that mark, the times that it reaches that pinnacle make it well worth the wait.
3The Decemberists
Castaways and Cutouts

Speaking of roots, Castaways and Cutouts is the platform upon which all other Decemberist albums were built. Many still bemoan it as one of the more lifeless options compared to all of the bells and whistles that accompanied their 2005-2009 releases, but this album boasts far more depth and lyrical content. There's thinly veiled gloom across the board while covering topics such as prostitution and death, although gems such as the romantic 'Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect' and more sprightly 'July, July!' add a kick to the bands' step. It's wholly less memorable and melodically attractive than probably all of their other albums, but if it's the darker and more mysterious side of the Decemberists that you seek, look no further.
2The Decemberists
The King Is Dead

Admittedly, a good portion of my love for The King Is Dead stems from personal memories that will be forever tied to the album. In all fairness though, The King Is Dead lends itself to fond memory-making more so than any other Decemberists release. As a post-Hazards of Love record, it goes out of its way to dissociate from the band's prior over-the-top theatrical bearings; firmly planting its feet in the ground, pulling an acoustic guitar out of its backpack, and singing ballads around the soft glow of a mid-January campfire. The King Is Dead is an early Decemberists revival movement that somehow manages to trump the very era it is seeking to emulate, as it pokes earnestly at the embers of a dying love in 'January Hymn', condemns war in the Americana-laden 'This Is Why We Fight', and melts away the chill of winter with the heartfelt closer 'Dear Avery.' The King Is Dead is more than just a literary allusion; it's a sigh of relief, and a metaphor for the The Decemberists' transition back to the roots that established them.
1The Decemberists
The Crane Wife

This is just vintage Decemberists. It's all of their best traits wrapped up into one experience - from the prog folk beginnings on 'The Crane Wife 3' and more particularly 'The Island', all the way through to the swaying grace of 'After The Bombs.' Frontman Colin Meloy is at his creative peak, although he noticeably hones in the pomp and frills to make the album a more down to earth listen than, say, this album's predecessor. 'O Valencia!' anchors the album's midsection with one of the catchiest melodies the band has ever crafted, and Meloy's war-cry "With blood still warm on the ground...I'll burn this whole city down" sounds misguided until you realize it's all for love. Only 'Sons and Daughters' rivals it in terms of sheer catchiness, but there's plenty of that to go around. The true value of this album can be found in its perfect blend of progressively influenced folk with elements of British pop, contemporary rock, and renaissance-styled play writing to give it all an intriguing backdrop.
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