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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
The Decemberists
The Hazards of Love

Rating: 5/10 ?

March 25, 2009
You'd be hard-pressed to find a 2009-relevant band easier to hate than the Decemberists. No matter what you think of Fall Out Boy, they still spelled their namesake correctly after its source (minorest of minor Simpsons characters). The Decemberists, who supposedly know better, did not (3,000-odd Decembrists, sans "e," led the revolt against Nicholas I in Imperial Russia). Frontman Colin Meloy writes lyrics that betray such maddening intimacy with a thesaurus you want to check his dick for paper cuts. He writes multipartite songs based on folktales about shape-shifting birds, barrow boys, and raping and killing damsels. He sings in a shrilly pompous cadence, the aural equivalent of the teacher's pet up in front waving his hand frantically as if he's invisible. His band plays fucking folk-rock and treats it with all the subtlety of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Though no one has ever heard of ELP making the whole crowd sit down during the quiet parts.

Worst of all, they won't just make a whole-on bad album so we can throw them to the lions already. Meloy's sense of melody is too limited; those nondescript, pedestrian chords are too banal for hits and too reliable for misses. A handful of times he's transcended his annoying self -- 2005's most inspired war president satire "16 Military Wives," 2006's murderous iTunes special "Culling of the Fold," and long, long ago "Weight of the World," a straightforward pop jewel from his old band Tarkio. The Crane Wife's "The Perfect Crime" was close, a nearly sexy dance number with botched-caper humor meant to lighten the gaps between twelve-minute stagings of Shakespeare on Ice. More often though, the band is reliably banal, supposedly brought to life by Meloy's lyrics, the crowning saga for fans and piffling joke for haters. It's not that they're bad per se, though mythology scholars could tell you better than I (Chris Ott alleged infamously in Village Voice that five-part mini-epic "The Tain" was actually pronounced "toy-n"), just that they're ridiculous. One of the eponymous hazards of this record is a "villainous rake."

Casting off songs entirely for 17 parts that to their cult make a sum, I was sure this would be the one where I could finally take my other foot off the doorstop. And the first couple times through, I gleefully bypassed every one confidently without a "16 Military Wives" in the batch. But forest queen or no forest queen, knave or no knave, I returned for this review and endured 15 tracks for 49 minutes, ranging from one-minute interludes to six-strong wavecrests. These do not include the pointless fanfare at the start or -- one of their most annoying hallmarks -- the dull, sodden epilogue. In between, they're as above-mediocre as ever, with particular fervor from, yes, the damn rake song, but also some notable female guests. Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond shrieks like PJ Harvey at her most blues-swamped on the crashing centerpiece "The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid" (and its -- are those Sonic Youth noises?? -- counterpart "The Queen's Rebuke") and Lavender Diamond's Becky Stark holds her own on "Won't Want for Love" and "Margaret in Capitivity."

The fresh voices and staged character interplay keep Meloy's pretensions from boiling over, and loathe as I am to admit, two of the four title tracks culminate in something like hooks. That's saying a lot for Meloy's melodic prowess with such tough competition, lyrical overlays like "Fifteen lithesome maidens lay/ Along in their bower/ Fourteen occupations paid/ To pass the idle hour" and "O gray river, your waters ramble wild/ The horses shiver and bite against the bridle" more suited for a Renaissance Faire than indie-NPR fare. Not sure how many times I'll return once this critique's been filed, and I wish I could ensure the same for future humming. Hazards of Love nothing. More like the Reluctances of Hate.

Reviewed by Dan Weiss
Dan Weiss is the music editor for LAS. Formerly an editorial intern at CMJ and creator of the now defunct What was It Anyway?, his work has appeared in Village Voice, Pitchfork, Philadelphia Inquirer, Stylus and Crawdaddy among others. He resides in Brooklyn where he enjoys questionable lifestyle choices and loud guitars.

See other reviews by Dan Weiss



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