The Decemberists
The Tain


4.0
excellent

Review

by Caleb McAlpine USER (109 Reviews)
November 9th, 2009 | 22 replies | 9,036 views


Release Date: 2004 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Sinister and expertly crafted, The Tain EP is only bogged down by an overbearing narrative.

5 of 5 thought this review was well written

It’s no secret that The Decemberists have a knack for theatrics. From their accordion drenched debut to their most recent concept concoction The Hazards of Love, the band has been incredibly keen on soaking things in hyperliterate narratives and semi-progressive indie-blather in order to tell a “story”. And tell a story they do -- Colin Meloy’s eclectic and archaic vocabulary perfectly suits the fables he sings of and it’s very infrequent that The Decemberists ever compromise melody for narrative. With conceptual (and very lengthy) songs like ‘The Island, Come and See, The Landlord’s Daughter, You’ll Not Feel the Drowning’ and the classic ‘The Mariner’s Revenge Song’, The Decemberists make it obvious that they love being dramatic songwriters. But perhaps it would surprise you to learn that the band’s longest and most grandiose song ever is neither of these two songs and it’s not even on a ‘Decemberists full length. 'The Tain', the title track (and only track) of The Tain EP is in fact over 18 minutes long and is just as expansive as any of the band’s lengthier tracks. Retelling the classic mythological Irish story of Táin Bó Cúailnge, the song is one of the band’s most ambitious and overlooked song suites. It has five distinct parts; all of them wonderfully beautiful - it also has many antiquated words you’ve never heard before (and never will again); all of them thoroughly pretentious.

A brooding acoustic guitar riff sinisterly introduces the songs opening number, which quickly unfolds into an organ-led saunter based around the original riff. Yet before you get too comfortable (or exhausted) with the sailor-esque metallic guise that the band puts on, part II and part III sweep into the scene and sweep you off your feet. The two parts, respectively a classic rocker segment and a more relaxed, tranquil section, are undoubtedly the song’s strongest moments - you’ll struggle to resist singing along with Meloy as he belts out “Damn all the angles that oppress my sight, I will bleed your heart through a samovar soon!” (not that you or anybody on earth knows what a “samovar*” is). Segueing out of the lulling Part III is the equally relaxed Part IV, an accordion-led coma of a segment (in the best way possible) that explodes into the closing chapter Part V, an upbeat reprise of Part I that successfully completes the musical journey of 'The Tain'. To summarize, 'The Tain' has got some serious dynamic going - it’s without question The Decemberists most diverse work and is one of their most musically interesting concoctions.

But what of the narrative?”, you will surely ask. A lot of weight goes into the narrative in a song such as this one. Well, despite Meloy being one of modern music’s craftiest wordsmiths, on 'The Tain' he tends to get a little too broad and ambiguous with his pompous vocabulary. While those familiar with the original story of Táin Bó Cúailnge may find lines like “He comes in the chang and the chariot/And all his eunuchs in thrail/Can scarce lift his line and lariat” titillating, most people will find Meloy’s lyricism to be a bit of a chore to grasp (this has luckily been amended in the band’s later work). Yet despite having a narrative that seems to be lost in the translation, The Tain EP is still one of the band’s most overlooked and accomplished works. It’s not a starting place for new listeners (that would be The Crane Wife), but for fans of progressive/indie music or obscure Irish mythology, you’ll likely find The Tain EP to be a fun experience - one that warrants listen after listen, after listen, after listen...

*Samovar: (noun) a highly decorated tea urn from Russia.



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user ratings (53)
Chart.
3.8
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
Waior
November 9th 2009



11447 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Written during a four hour lay over in Minnesota, I don't know.

Athom
Staff Reviewer
November 9th 2009



17204 Comments


love this : )

Gyromania
November 9th 2009



15461 Comments


How did you change your user name?

Knott-
Emeritus
November 9th 2009



10195 Comments


the samovar bracket contains a pretty shocking typo :p

and of course you love this!

haha, just kidding; great review. i mayyyyyyyyy check this out at some point.

Waior
November 9th 2009



11447 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

ooh, sir adam knott, only a 23 hour traveling day can excuse such a typo. fixed!

And yeah, this is really awesome but it's not essential listening. Gyro, what are you talking about?

PuddlesPuddles
November 9th 2009



4772 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah this is pretty cool stuff here

Nice work as always, bud

thebhoy
Emeritus
November 9th 2009



4459 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is pretty much a microcosm of The Hazards of Love in both pros and cons.

Waior
November 9th 2009



11447 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Which is fine because I really like The Hazards of Love, obviously. Except The Hazards of Love makes a lot of sense lyrically. You know, for an album about a girl, stolen by a widowed rake who maimed his offspring, getting impregnated by a shape shifting fawn man who is the son of the forest Queen.

klap
Staff Reviewer
November 9th 2009



10306 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

those are the best kinds of albums

Digging: Literature - Chorus

astrel
November 9th 2009



2614 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

His words aren't that big guys.

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
November 9th 2009



23801 Comments


Sweet, I hadn't heard of this, I'll probably check it out.

And while gyro seems to be on crack, I still wouldn't mind someone answering his question. I've been wanting to change my username for a while (for obvious reasons) but to no avail.

Oh yah, good review, but you knew that already.

WatchItExplode
November 9th 2009



3219 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I was seriously going to ask you if you had heard this Caleb...I really dig this EP, it covers a lot of ground...had to bump up

WhiteWallStargazers
November 9th 2009



2647 Comments


yay Minnesota.....

Blindsided
November 9th 2009



1871 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

yay Minnesota x2.
I have this, suppose I should listen to it pronto now.

thebhoy
Emeritus
November 9th 2009



4459 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I mean it gets brownie points for being about Caulchallain... I screwed up that spelling.

Gyromania
November 10th 2009



15461 Comments


Gyro, what are you talking about?

I'm sure you've heard by now about that.

Waior
November 10th 2009



11447 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I thought that didn't affect me...

Kashmir09
December 9th 2009



772 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

One of the best 18 minute songs I've ever heard

Motiv3
February 3rd 2010



8921 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

need this!

WatchItExplode
February 3rd 2010



3219 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

ep rules...decemberists in a snapshot here



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