The Decemberists, The Crane Wife

Rachael Maddux

By Rachael Maddux

on 05.31.11 in Reviews

The Crane Wife

The Decemberists
Affirming the power of smartly deployed resources

It seems quaint now, but in 2006, after the long-independent Decemberists signed with Capitol Records, it was feared that the Portland group's central charms &#8212 bookish lyrics, rag-bag instrumental flair and school-play production values — would be no match for the machinations of the major label world. But then came The Crane Wife, the band's fifth album overall and first for Capitol, soothing the handwringers with the steady grace of its opening bouzouki-strummed lines. Each track affirms the power of smartly-deployed resources: The lush, careful production of Chris Walla and Tucker Martine cradles frontman Colin Meloy's yawp as it conjures up yet more sweetly sordid narratives, from gutted Civil War soldiers to war-ravaged Soviet botanists. And for the first time the instrumental prowess of the whole five-piece is given its full due, organ and accordion and strings and an increasingly hearty dose of electric guitar quilted into a shifting, darkly shimmering whole. "O Valencia" and "The Perfect Crime, Pt. 2" were the album's approximate hits, but never the most compelling tracks &#8212 that would perhaps be "Sons & Daughters," one of the more joyful post-apocalyptic anthems yet penned, if not the three-song title suite, the final act of which is curiously inverted as the album's opening track. And then there's "The Island — Come And See/The Landlord's Daughter/You'll Not Feel The Drowning," a gallivanting, 12-and-a-half minute suite that, little did anyone know, was the perfect launchpad for The Decemberists' next foray into major-label bankrolling, 2009's massive folk-opera The Hazards of Love.