The Decemberists' Dangerous Ambitions

The Decemberists' Dangerous Ambitions
"I guess you're always trying to outdo yourself," says Colin Meloy, fearless leader of dizzyingly prolific Portland quintet the Decemberists. This year alone, the band has released two full-length albums on Kill Rock Stars, and recorded an EP with Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla, for Spanish label Acuarela. Their current release, Her Majesty, The Decemberists, has inspired nothing but gushing praise, as much for its eccentric musicality as its self-consciously literary songs.

Their crashing cymbals and lush accordion suggest something between a religious revival and a music hall, bringing to life Meloy's cast of characters, who include a doomed gymnast, devoted trench soldiers and homely urchins lifted from a Dickens novel. "We may be putting some people off, [ but] we are attracting these people who just love it. They're all jaded English majors and people who spend too much time at home, who read too much and are maybe just a little awkward. Exactly who I am."

It's no surprise to find that the idea of a musical is not far from his mind. "It's so hard because there is so much novelty surrounding it that it's really difficult to do it well. I would want to do it as seriously as I possibly could." In fact, their first album included a song intended as part of a faux Victorian operetta, and the forthcoming EP comprises an 18-minute song in five parts, loosely based on an epic poem that Meloy describes as "the Irish Iliad."

"This last record wasn't quite as ambitious in theme as I might have liked. It just came together as a collection of pop songs that weren't necessarily tied together thematically. I think on the next record I might try to find a happy medium, a really large, dense body of work that has a strong through-line, and could be seen as a whole work in itself. I'd love to attempt something really, really dangerously ambitious."