For my recent (45th, but who’s counting…) birthday, I received a gift that I specifically requested — a deluxe box set of the Decemberists’ latest release, The King is Dead.
Among other items, it features a pressing on “180 gram white vinyl” which is very cool. Records are making something of a comeback, among audiophiles and a younger crowd to whom they have that coveted “retro chic.” One of the nicest things about records is that the album covers are BIG and therefore the artwork on them is that much more enjoyable than the little CD’s we’ve grown accustomed to. Or worse yet, the thumbnails available on downloaded music. In this case, it’s just a photo of the band (a nice one, though), so perhaps the canvas wasn’t used to best effect, but it’s a pleasure to hold and see nonetheless.
Ironically, I may never get to hear the album this way. The last turntable I owned was also the first I bought, back when I was in high school. We just got rid of it when my parents moved out of their house, and I forget exactly what brand/model it was. But I do remember that it was a “changer” (meaning you could stack records on it to play in turn), and that it had a ceramic cartridge (as opposed to the preferred magnetic). It played 33’s (LP’s), 45’s (singles), and 78’s (oldies — had to flip to the other needle in the cartridge)! I remember that some multi-record sets (dad’s set of Beethoven symphonies, for example) were pressed specifically for record changers, so that you could stack up sides 1,2,3,4 and then flip over the stack for 5,6,7,8, for example. So 8 would be on the back of 1, and 5 on the back of 4, etc. Anyway, records were much more tangible than the recordings we have today. There were people who could look at the grooves on a record and recognize the recording just from that! I still have my collection of old records (somewhere…), so perhaps someday I will buy a turntable. But for now, the record will remain a conversation piece.
I was introduced to The Decemberists back in early 2007, around the time of the release of their Crane Wife album by an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air. The lyrics were so different from most pop music, and so refreshing, that I felt intrigued by a band for the first time in perhaps a decade. Colin Meloy, lead singer and songwriter for the Decemberists, has a unique voice; and while he may throw around “10 dollar words” like they’re going out of style, I prefer his perspective, which to paraphrase, is a desire not to be constrained to using the limited vocabulary currently in vogue. But it’s not just the words, it’s the stories. While it seems to me much of today’s music (and to be fair, not just today’s) can be characterized as regurgitated love songs, the Decemberists explore a much greater range of the human experience, and draw from a wide variety of source material and ideas. Give them a listen, if you haven’t.