Telling Stories

Make text smaller Make text larger

Listening to an album by the Decemberists is a lot like listening to a book on tape, albeit a disjointed one, set to indie pop, that strays from the classic introduction-middle-conclusion format. The five-piece ensemble tells stories while Irish jig, klezmer and folk fuse in the background to create an inventive sound. The tales on the Decemberists’ four full-length releases come from the brain of lead singer/songwriter Colin Meloy, whose vocals can’t avoid comparisons to those of Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum. Meloy plays the tracks’ protagonists, and each album has seen him trying new roles. 

The varying characters clearly reveal something about Meloy, that we can’t leave unexamined. In the spirit of intellectual freedom and postmodern perceptivity, I’ve taken the time to analyze his text: Hell, I did spend a year as an English and textual studies major in college. (That’s gotta buy me something more than just a stack of unread Hemingway and a hard drive full of poetry explications.)

Album: Castaways and Cut-Outs

Track: “Leslie Anne Levine”

Conflict: “My name is Leslie Anne Levine/My mother birthed me down a dry ravine/My mother birthed me far too soon/Born at 9 and dead at noon.” 

Resolution: There must be a few male singers out there—accompanied by a slowly strummed, steel-string guitar—named Leslie, but I don’t know any named Anne. Thus, we can conclude that Meloy feels he can relate to women on some level; mainly, the level of being birthed. Let’s hope he’s got sharper pick-up lines on which to rely.

Album: Her Majesty

Track: “The Chimbley Sweep”

Conflict: “I am a chimbley, a chimbley sweep/No bed to lie, no shoes to hold my feet/On a rooftop in dead of night/You’ll hear me cry, ‘I’ll shake you from your sleep.’”

Resolution: The word “chimbley” also appeared in Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas when the Grinch “very nimbly” stuffed bags “up the chimbley!” Assuming this is slang for chimney, Meloy’s song depicts the hard life of a chimney sweep, while an accordion romances an electric guitar to a chugging background beat. But later lyrics from a lonely widow telling the young sweep that she hasn’t been “swept” since the day her husband died might indicate that Meloy specializes in cleaning out another form of, uh, chimney. 

Album: Picaresque

Track: “The Sporting Life”

Conflict: “There’s my father looking on/And there’s my girlfriend arm in arm/With the captain of the other team.”

Resolution: Meloy suffers humiliation in the ultimate arena: the sports field. The bouncing drumbeat that accompanies the scene suggests that Meloy must be OK with his lack of athletic prowess, but it still must sting to watch the coach as “He turns and loads the lemonade away.” Talk about getting served a big old glass of Hate-orade.  

Album: The Crane Wife

Track: “O Valencia!”

Conflict: “Our families can’t agree/I’m your brother’s sworn enemy/But I’ll shout my love to the stars.”

Resolution: Meloy acts as a modern-day Romeo in … Spain? ¡Ay Dios mío! This man must have had a tough run-in with some in-laws. Still, for a tune about an ill-fated match, the “Oh, Valencia” chorus sounds bright and sunny with the high-pitched keyboard pattern running through the guitar and drum scene.

After this careful consideration, we can now conclude that Meloy has a female edge, needs to get laid, can’t play sports and is a victim of star-crossed love—or perhaps that it’s a good thing I switched majors. 


Nov. 3. Hammerstein Ballroom, 311 W. 34th St. (betw. 8th & 9th Aves.), 212-777-1224; 6:30, $29.50.

Make text smaller Make text larger




Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Neighborhood Newsletters