Under the Radar’s 15th Anniversary: The Decemberists’ “5 Songs” EP
Celebrating Under the Radar's 15th Anniversary and the Best Albums of 2001
Feb 08, 2017 Web Exclusive
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Under the Radar's very first print issue came out in December 2001. In honor of our 15th Anniversary some of our writers are reflecting on some of their favorite albums (and in this case an EP) from 2001.
The Decemberists quietly introduced their unique brand of indie rock in 2001 with the self-released 5 Songs EP. A charming collection of folk-pop that started a groundswell that saw the band sign to a major label, release a No. 1 album, and even garner a Grammy nomination along the way.
After the breakup of his Montana based band Tarkio and a move to Portland, Oregon, Colin Meloy formed The Decemberists with new friends and new ideas. It wasn't a completely fresh start however. The third track on the EP is an updated version of the Tarkio song "My Mother Was a Chinese Trapeze Artist," a whimsical story-song that to this day ranks high on the list of The Decemberists' best songs.
Unique in their ability to weave intriguing stories into the fabric of their artistic blend of folk and rock, the band uses unconventional instruments such as accordion, organ, and upright bass to add touches of worldly musical forms like sea shanties and Irish jigs to the mix. Each song is a tale that is expressively and articulately sung by periphrastic main man Meloy, whose quavering faux-British accent and animated inflections enliven each song and endear the listener.
The other standout track, "Shiny," flaunts their Smiths influence. Gently strummed guitars, a rolling drum beat, and slide guitar supply the backbone to this quaint and charming tale of teen angst.
Following the mild success of their first two full-length albums, Castaways and Cutouts and Her Majesty, Hush records re-released the EP with the addition of a sixth track, "Apology Song." But in true Decemberists fashion, the title of the EP remained the same.
Revisiting the EP reminds us that The Decemberists have always had a flair for the dramatic. Their resplendent melodies and eloquent lyrics sweep the listener away from the doldrums of everyday life into an enchanting universe where old-world characters merge with new-world musical motifs.
With an ever evolving sound over seven distinctive albums, songs ranging from the quirky to the sublime, and a reputation for dynamic and entertaining live shows, The Decemberists have built a well-deserved and large devoted fan base that started with five fine songs.
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