The Tain - EP
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After releasing two solid albums of British folk-inspired library-pop, it's only fitting that the Oregon-based collective the Decemberists would construct a nearly 20-minute EP based on an epic tale concerning a violent cattle raid in pre-Christian Ireland. If anything, Tain is the indie rock generation's "Court of the Crimson King," a narrative that's as isolating as it is compelling, especially when filtered through the surprisingly Black Sabbath-inspired song cycle. Composed of five movements, parts one and two roll in like an outtake from Deep Purple's Machine Head, part three brings together some of the more melodious and mournful moments of Pink Floyd's The Wall, part four introduces some delectable balladry from drummer Rachel Blumberg and part five brings back the Hammond B3 for a true progressive rock encore, all bookended by the musings of a character known simply as "The Crone." While not as Dio as it sounds, there is a certain lust for tall tales and gentry high-speak needed to become fully immersed. For all of its bombast and esoteric subject matter, Tain is raw, engaging, and bristling with an electricity that's been missing from this enigmatic collective of bibliophiles' previous releases.
A musical tour de force
One might thing it would be hard for a band -- even one as elegant and imaginative as The Decemberists -- to keep a song interesting for 20 minutes. And yet The Tain not only manages to meet this goal, it more than surpasses it, providing a magical song dense with instrumentation and lyrical mystery that it keeps you coming back. The story -- reportedly based on the Irish myth Táin Bó Cúailnge -- is rather hard to follow, but this mystery only adds to the work's power. Another fantastic piece from The Decemberists.
Listen and Love
"The Tain," at nearly nineteen minutes long, showcases all that is to be praised about The Decemberists. Engaging storytelling, clever lyrics, and five distinct parts with variety from rocking guitars and powerful drums to whimsical use of bottles and tin toys. This should be a part of every music lover's collection.
This is a really cool album. Yes, it is all one track, divided conceptually into five parts. Look up the lyrics online. This is quite different from most Decemberists albums, in that it has a much "harder" edge to it. Still, it is definitely a Decemberists album. How does it relate to the original story? Well, it's not exactly a retelling of it, so far as I can tell, but more a period piece dancing around the periphery of that classic. Caveats: this is one long track, so if you shuffle you might not appreciate that. I wouldn't use this as an introduction to The Decemberists, as it is significantly different from their general style; that honor definitely goes to Castaways. On the other hand, maybe they'll be returning to this type of style in the future (I wouldn't be disappointed!), but for now it's the odd man out. If you read that list of caveats and said "so what?", then buy this album now. It is worth every penny.
Formed: 2000 in Portland, OR
Years Active: '00s, '10s
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