1. Top 5 of 2011 Part 4: Don't Carry It All

    Friday, December 23, 2011

    Don't Carry It All - The Decemberists

    The Decemberists can't catch a break, man.

    When they craft a gigantic (awesome) achievement like "The Hazards of Love", it gets nailed for "missing the catchy choruses and verisimilar emotions"*. When they follow that up with a gorgeously minimal record like "The King is Dead" - absolutely laden with hooks - they apparently "cling so closely to formula" that they sound "unconvincing"**. Whatever.

    "The King is Dead' is absolutely stellar, and "Don't Carry It All" was one of my anthems for the year. This beaming song was delivered in time for spring to arrive, and it brought a huge smile (and a couple tears) to my face as I drove around watching the trees come into bloom. In the second line of the song, Colin Meloy describes the days becoming longer as a "march towards the sun". Indeed. This is how you write a song about a season change.

    In fact, "Don't Carry It All" is an ode to change of many kinds. Old to new, chaos to stability, life to death and then rebirth. As always with the Decemberists, complex topics like marriage, community and loss are handled with perception and remarkable economy. A single verse will reveal a lifetime, and words are to be clung to for full effect.

    Even better, these words should be sung along with. "Picaresque" (and "Cutouts and Castaways") had some great choruses, but I daresay that this effort is the most sing-a-long-friendly of any Decemberists album. In fact, I dare people not to sing along to "Don't Carry It All". And when the words you're singing include "Let the yoke fall from our shoulders", that's even more remarkable. Poetry makes the familiar, unfamiliar, and good songwriting makes the poetic, catchy. "Don't Carry It All" might as well be a masterclass in good writing. It's simple stuff: Verse/Chorus/Bridge material that uses few chords, and doesn't do anything fancy. Listen how great it sounds. It's the kind of song that reminds why these old songwriting forms have lasted hundreds of years.

    Even the message is totally on point. At the beginning of 2011, a song that welcomes change and stresses the importance of community could hardly be more timely. Gather around. Enjoy this wonderful song.






    *Pitchfork
    **LA Times
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