You could label “The Tain” as an unpredictable composition. What’s more, unpredictable from various
points of view: as if an EP with one only song, divided into five different movements, wasn’t original
enough (even though it’s 18 minutes long), the piece is very loosely based on the Celtic mythology cycle of the same name. Most known in its translation by Irish poet Thomas Kinsella, the Tain (or Tain Bo Cualnge) tells of the Cattle Raid of Cooley, in which the noted witch-queen Maeb attempts to wrestle a Great White Bull from the clutches of a northern king. Their re-telling, however, is very abstract and not strange to the sensitivity (both musical and in terms of literature) of The Decemberists, which are a creative group rather than a music band in the strictest sense of the word.
Stemming from a concept conceived by Colin Meloy, who was born in Helena (Montana)but moved to Portland, The Decemberists turned into a rock band by bringing together the talent of Rachel Blumberg (drums), Nate Query (bass guitar), Jenny Conlee (accordion and keyboards) and Chris Funk (electric guitar and pedal steel guitar). Guided by Meloy’s melodic instinct and narrative pulse (he does hold a degree in creative writing), the band’s first step is a five-song EP, with the suggestive title of “Five Songs”, released by themselves in 2001 and re-issued a year later, together with debut album “Castaways and Cutouts” by the Portland Hush label. Then, in 2003, fabulous and rebellious label Kill Rock Stars takes an interest in this peculiar group; it distributes their first LP internationally releases their second step, “Her Majesty The Decemberists”. They are widely acclaimed, and their pop streak leads to cliché comparisons with groups such as Belle & Sebastian (harmonic sensitivity) and Neutral Milk Hotel (healthy schizophrenia). But The Tain is also related to Built to Spill’s skill for rock-art or to Clem Snide’s slightly ironic traditional renewal. They always, however, maintain a beat of their own.
As in “The Tain”, which are five songs in one. A hurricane that starts up with acoustic lament of porch music backed up by the muscley riff of rock’n’roll and wrapped in a cloak of celestial choirs and melodramatic chords, which takes advantage of a piano and seducing female vocals to recreate the best port cabaret, just before biting its tail and losing it amongst martial drum beats and ending with a return to the vitamin-overflowing guitars that conceived the piece.
Unpredictable? Yes, thank you.