Posts Tagged the decemberists

STEELE PICKS: Best Albums of 2015

Although I’ve ostensibly been a music critic for several decades I’m not on the press lists I used to be so I rely on spotify to find much of my new music. So there are some favorite artists and bands here as well as new discoveries. Music that appeals to me must speak to my heart, soul, mind. The melodies are mostly dark, swirling, moody with unusual arrangements and instrumentation. Sometimes it’s folk or electro-pop. Mostly dark alternative. I favor female vocalists with varied range, strength and style.

chelsea wolfe abyss

Chelsea Wolfe, Abyss [Sargent House]
–I love Chelsea Wolfe. always and forever. dark, swirling, atmospheric and emotive.

beach house_depression cherry

Beach House, Depression Cherry [Sub Pop]
–a rich, beautiful album that I can [and do] play again and again.

chvrches_every open eye

Chvrches, Every Open Eye [Glassnote]
–electropop. energetic and powerful. one of my favorite bands.

lana del rey_honeymoon

Lana Del Rey, Honeymoon [Interscope]
–moody gorgeousness


Sasha Siem, Most of the Boys
–a bit of Bjork, a bit of Florence and the Machine. quite beautiful, swirling and beguiling.


The Decemberists, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World [Capitol]
–another favorite band that I find both comforting and subversive. extremely talented and inherently beautiful songwriting.


Lauren Peacock, Euphonia
–what I said in my August review: “combines piano with lush arrangements for memorable, moving melodies. The vocals shimmy and simmer.”


Torres, Sprinter [PTKF]
–Singer/songwriter Mackenzie Scott possesses maturity and presence beyond her years. beautiful, raw, haunting. echos of PJ Harvey and Amanda Palmer.

science and the beat

Science and the Beat, Future Blue
–skilled duo of multi-instrumentalists Tasha Katrine and Rob Zilla that create the cool sounds and eclectic arrangements. moody, strong, electro-pop. read the review.


Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
–powerful, outspoken and rocking


Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp [Merge Records]


Bjork, Vulnicura [One Little Indian Us]
–orchestral arrangements with Bjork’s cool weirdness. a bit slower than other albums and it’s fantastic.

wolf alice_my love is cool

Wolf Alice, My Love is Cool [RCA]
–heard the single on a British radio station and was hooked.

grimes_art angels

Grimes, Art Angels [4AD]
–unusually arranged songs about being weird, being an outcast. angelic vocals. what’s not to appreciate?

ellie goulding_delirium

Ellie Goulding, Delirium [Interscope]
–beautiful pop songs


Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit [MOM & POP MUSIC]
–past, present and future infused with her witty lyrics and alt-pop melodies.

sufjan stevens_ carrie & lowell

Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell [Asthmatic Kitty]
–cool soothing folk. open and lovely.

furniture girls

Furniture Girls, Chaos
–kick ass garage rock. review here.

A History of Now - Album Cover HIGH RES

Callaghan, A History of Now
–happy, optimistic Americana/ folk/ alt-country mix. when it came out I wrote: “A History of Now will definitely make you feel 10% happier after listening to it.”

julie holter_ have you in my wilderness

Julia Holter, Have You in my Wilderness
–combines retro with current arrangements. gorgeous vocals.

wind burial

Wind Burial, We Used to Be Hunters
–immediately caught my attention as it manages to convey intensity, danger and beauty. review.

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The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy Announces Solo FALL TOUR and EP

colin meloy

the EP will be composed of cover songs. His children’s book series The Wildwood Chronicles will soon be made into a film.

November TOUR DATES:

1 – New York, NY @ Town Hall
2 – Glenside, Pa. @ Keswick Theatre
4 – Somerville, Mass. @ Somerville Theatre
5 – Washington, D.C. @ Lincoln Theatre
6 – Durham, N.C. @ Carolina Theatre of Durham
8 – Atlanta, Ga. @ Variety Playhouse
9 – Louisville, Kent. @ Headliners Music Hall
11 – Chicago, Ill. @ Park West
12 – Madison, Wis. @ Majestic Theatre
13 – Minneapolis, Minn. @ The Woman’s Club


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STEELE INTERVIEWS: John Moen [Perhapst, The Decemberists]

Perhapst is a side-project for The Decemberists’ percussionist John Moen. The songs on the sophomore album, Revise Your Maps, contain varied instrumentation, gorgeous arrangements and soothing vocals. It’s mellower, personal and intimate–a welcome departure from The Decemberists [one of my favorite bands]. No one wants someone’s side-project to sound too much like the band he’s been in for years. A side project is the time to stretch, experiment and to express one’s individuality and John Moen certainly does that. He steps out behind the drum kit and proves to be a lovely singer/songwriter.


Recently John took some time to answer a few questions about the latest Perhapst album.

Amy Steele [AS]: This is a beautiful album. It sounds so different from The Decemberists—one of my favorite bands– which doesn’t happen when a lot of people in bands go off on their own. What have you learned from being in The Decemberists and what enabled you to do a solo project?


John Moen [JM]: Hello. Thanks for taking the time- thanks also for listening! I have been dabbling with song writing for a very long time. This is the second Perhapst record, and I fronted a band called the Maroons prior to that. I was also in a band called the Dharma Bums that shared songwriting between all four members. There isn’t much chance to write for the Decemberists, so I continue to work on my own material when I get the time. I love Colin from the Decemberist’s writing, and it has been awesome to be a part of that band; to be inspired by the way he makes and sees music. I also played drums for Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks for several years, and took away a much different, but still inspiring way of looking at music from participating in that band. So, I’ve attempted to channel all these various inspirations without sounding too much like any one of them… I hope I have been successful in this.

AS: Did you grow up in Portland or move there for the music scene? How has the Portland music scene affected your development as a musician and your musical career?

JM: I was raised in Salem Oregon, less than an hour south of Portland. I moved to Portland after graduating high school in 1986. I was in a band then, and we wanted to move to where the action was… Needless to say, there is quite a bit more action here now! Staying in Portland has allowed me to meet many amazing musicians. I have definitely benefitted from this town being a draw to interesting people.

AS: How have you changed as a musician over the years?

JM: It is my hope that I’ve become a better listener over the years. I consider it to be a great quality in a musician… I’m sure there is still room for improvement.

AS: What was the first instrument you learned how to play? Are you a trained or self-taught musician?

JM: My first instrument was alto Sax in 5th grade. At the time, you could learn an instrument in public grade school! …no longer a given here in Portland. I had a few drum lessons when I was young, but am largely self-taught.

AS: Can you tell me about musical influences? Who are some artists/ bands you admire now?

JM: That’s a tough question. I find it hard to narrow it down to just a few. I loved heavy metal when I was younger, and am somehow still informed by that influence. Before that I was drawn to Bluegrass on my parents radio. Lately, I enjoy melodic psychedelic music and still have a big thing for Zydeco.

AS: Why the name Perhapst?

JM: It came to me while I was playing darts and drinking beer… It’s really hard to find a good band name.

AS: Can you tell me what inspired the following songs or something about writing/ recording them:

“Willamette Valley Ballad”

JM: This song is a reflection on where I grew up. It’s a beautiful area. I attempt to commune with nature in this song. I am not sure that nature is reciprocating my desires. It’s all pretty perverted.

“Revise Your Maps”

JM: Another song about stage fright, basically.

“Find Me”

JM: This song is really personal- I can’t divulge too much on this one. Nate from the Decemberists plays a lovely bowed bass line on the recording, and I finally found a place for the recorder my Dad has always had lying around; it’s the flute-like sound in the middle section.

“Thousand Words”

JM: Somebody musing about their lover while looking through a photo album. Sounds perverted, but isn’t. Ha!

AS: What makes a good song?

JM: I like a strong melodic line, and good (If great is not available!) words. I would bet that a large percentage of songwriters are trying to include both of these elements… Unfortunately, one mans “hook” is another man’s forgettable assemblage of chords, so defining “good” becomes the trick. Luckily, there are many listeners, so pleasing everyone is thankfully not necessary.

Perhapst, Revise Your Maps release date: June 25, 2013
label: Jealous Butcher Records

purchase at Amazon: Revise Your Maps [Explicit]

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MUSIC: Best Albums of 2011

1. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake

2. The Decemberists, The King is Dead

3. Adele, 21

4. Death Cab for Cutie, Codes and Keys

5. The Joy Formidable, The Big Roar

6. Foster the People, Torches

7. St. Vincent, Strange Mercy

8. Rachel Platten, Be Here

9. Bon Iver, Bon Iver

10. Arctic Monkeys, Suck It and See

11. CAKE, Showroom of Compassion

12. Feist, Metals

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My favorite music releases this year (so far)

Adele- 21
–soulful, heartfelt, strong

Death Cab for Cutie- Codes and Keys
–adore this melodic indie band

Nick Jaina- The Beanstalks that have Brought Us Here Have Gone
–impressive range of moods, vocals and compositions. talented women with distinctive voices

The Decemberists- The King is Dead

PJ Harvey- Let England Shake
–songs about England’s history told in a manner only PJ Harvey can do. such an amazing album.

Cake- Showroom of Compassion
–quirky, infectious, great to work-out to

If By Yes- Salt on Sea Glass

The Strokes- Angles

Elbow- Build a Rocket Boys
–so understated that its simplicity is its charm

Rachel Platten- Be Here
–underlying cerebral, often serious-minded messages amidst catchy chords and dulcet vocals.

The Coathangers- Larcey & Old Lace
–The Coathangers growl, grind and sneer through its power rock songs.

The Living Sisters- Love to Live
–This lush aural tapestry with sweet voices harmonizing will make you put the album on repeat.

Juliana Hatfield- There’s Always Another Girl
–I’ve always liked Hatfield’s moody songs as I can easily relate to the topics Hatfield frequently sings about.

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Newport Folk Festival 2011

On Saturday, my friend Miriam and I left her house in Lexington, Mass. at 9 am and made great time driving down to Newport until we got hung up in traffic winding through the center of town. This festival’s been going on for decades and I’d think that getting in and getting out would be much more streamlined. There were FOUR buses carting people from the parking lots to the gates. Four buses for around 10K people? That’s ludicrous and poor planning to say the least. We made it through the entrance at 1 pm! It took us two hours to get from our car through the entrance gates. On the way out, it took us 45 minutes to wait for the shuttle and get out of the parking lot.

Newport’s beautiful and it’s a great location for a festival. A delightful ocean breeze wafted through the grounds of Fort Adams State Park. Disappointed I didn’t have a press pass [just a press ticket] because I’d have had better views of many acts. Also I expected the setting to be a combination of Great Woods and Harborlights– tents in front of stages, seats and lawn. Some guy said, of those drifting around off of boats: “it’s like Normandy of Beach Blanket Bingo.” The food highlight for me: vegan soft serve ice cream from Rhode Island’s Like No Udder. Yummy. Oh, and I got a falafel wrap but I’ve had better.

So I missed Sallie Ford and the Sound, unfortunately. I managed to see seven acts on three different stages.

Here’s who I DID manage to see:

–Extremely energetic 12-piece sound with two drummers, a horn section, two violinists and a cellist. Very unique.

Gogol Bordello
–So much fun! Explosive. Zany gypsy punk.
Lead singer, Eugene Hütz, said: I’m from Ukraine and couldn’t be more excited about it.”

Tegan and Sara
— Wonderfully strong acoustic set. Funny quips in between songs too. Very appreciate crowd over on the Quad stage.

Pokey LaFarge & the South City Three
— Very old time folk.

Devil Makes Three
— Good performers just not my thing. Bluesy, twangy, Gothic, Deep South-style folk.

Gillian Welch
–Powerhouse vocalist with a lovely voice.

The Decemberists
–One of my favorite bands. closed out the day on the Fort stage with an amazingly set including “O, Valencia,” “Calamity Song, “The Rake’s Songs,” “Down by the Water.” impeccable sound & Colin Meloy had an easy-going give and take with the audience.

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Newport Folk Festival July 30 and 31

location: Fort Adams State Park

Saturday performers:

The Decemberists

Gillian Welch

Gogol Bordello

Tegan and Sara (acoustic)

Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside

Mavis Staples
The Felice Brothers
Delta Spirit
Freelance Whales
The Devil Makes Three
Song Circle w/ Dar Williams, Ellis Paul, John Gorka, Liz Queler
Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three
River City Extension

PS22 Chorus

The Wailin’ Jennys
What Cheer? Brigade
Earl Scruggs
Ramblin Jack Elliott

Sunday performers:

EmmyLou Harris

Elvis Costello (acoustic)

Mountain Man

Amos Lee
Wanda Jackson
Middle Brother
Justin Townes Earle
Carolina Chocolate Drops
The Civil Wars
Chris Thile & Michael Daves
Trampled By Turtles
The Cave Singers
The Head & The Heart

Secret Sisters

David Wax Museum
Brown Bird
The Seeger Clogging All-Stars

more info: Newport Folk Festival website

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RAPTURE PLAY LIST– Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Death Cab for Cutie, Florence and the Machine, The Decemberists and more!!!

The Decemberists, Calamity Song

Florence and The Machine, Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)

Doves, Kingdom of Rust

Howling Bells, Cities Burning Down

Nirvana, Come as You Are

Death Cab for Cutie, I Will Follow You Into the Dark

Fleetwood Mac, Landslide

R.E.M., It’s the End of the World as We Know It

The Smiths, Panic

Metallica, Nothing Else Matters

Smashing Pumpkins, Drown

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music video: This is Why We Fight, The Decemberists

I’d hoped for an au currant video for this song as it’s so appropriate to everything that’s going on throughout the world. I’m not disappointed. The Lord of the Flies interpretation works for this powerful song.


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MUSIC: This is Why We Fight by The Decemberists



Come the war
Come the avarice
Come the war
Come hell

Come attrition
Come the reek of bones
Come attrition
Come hell

And this is why
Why we fight
Why we lie awake
This is why
This is why we fight
And when we die
We will die
With our arms unbound
This is why
This is why we fight
Come hell

Bride of quiet
Bride of all unquiet things
Bride of quiet
Bride of hell

Come the archers
Come the infantry
Come the archers
Of hell

And this is why
Why we fight
Why we lie awake
This is why
This is why we fight
And when we die
We will die
With our arms unbound
This is why
This is why we fight
Come hell
Come hell

And this is why
Why we fight
Why we lie awake
This is why
This is why we fight
And when we die
We will die
With our arms unbound
This is why
This is why we fight

So come to me
Come to me now
Lay your arms around me
This is why
This is why we fight
Come hell
Come hell
Come hell

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