Album Cover
The Decemberists
The Tain
February 03, 2004


On the one-track-in-five-parts EP The Tain, the Decemberists are rocking some concept or another to do with Celtic mythology. The EP's namesake, the Tain bo Cualnge, is a Celtic epic that tells of Queen Medb of Connaught, who sends an army led by the archetypal hero Cuchulain to defeat Daire, a chieftain who owns Ireland's most famous bull. (The "Cattle-Raid of Cooley" can be read in its entirety in several places, including here.)

And this sounds like one of those things that is "interesting" and "different", that is, novel but unlistenable. Celtic epic poetry rock? I wouldn't have believed it, but this assumption is so, so amazingly untrue; this EP contains some of the Decemberists' best work to date. The rapid eighteen minutes of music on this disc is instilled with such energy and theatrical performance as rarely equaled in the Decemberists' back catalog, or anything else I've been hearing recently.

The opening section employs a surprising amount of hard-rock chords, with a catchy little guitar repetition and Decemberisty lyrics. From this slow and heavy movement, we move into a quickly-paced and slightly less heavy one, with beautiful combinations of voice and guitar - Colin Meloy has a strange but lovable ability to flex vocal pitches to add flair to any standard tune. The third movement is slow and quiet, plodding, with occasional outbursts of gorgeous choruses and vocal harmonies, which shifts into a quiet three-step tango, featuring the trademark accordion and lilting female vocals. Speeding up and fading out, we are led into the final movement, the ultimate high point of the suite, with suspenseful bits of silence and military drum rolls interspersed between outbursts of hammond organ, climaxing in roughly a minute of unspeakable pleasantness. A quick return to the introductory motif fizzles out the suite.

The EP is the ideal format for the Decemberists to work with; their past albums have been brilliant except for the chunks of filler - whittled down to eighteen minutes, they would be as ridiculously solid as is this Tain.

Noah Jackson

Track List

  1. The Tain