I like the idea of concept albums—tell a story, try something new, develop a “concept.” However, I have a difficult time “getting” them. Despite my ability to understand Shakespeare and Bob Dylan, I’m finding I need artists to lay it out for me when it comes to concept albums. Of course, it doesn’t help that iTunes never plays the songs in the intended album order, which definitely further confuses the plot.
Despite my fuzzy understanding of albums that tell entire stories, I am fascinated by two such projects, which both coincidentally release today, March 24. The first is by popular indie-ish band, The Decemberists, and it’s called The Hazards of Love and the other is Fangs! from BEC Recording Artist Falling Up.
The Hazards of Love is the band’s second story album, the first being The Crane Wife, based on an old Japanese tale of the same name. After discovering British folk revivalist Anne Briggs 1966 EP entitled The Hazards of Love, Decemberists’ front man Colin Meloy decide to write a song that befit the enigmatic title. What emerged was not a single song, but an entire album following the journey of a young woman named Margaret, who sets out into the forest to tell her beloved William that she is pregnant. Oh, and did I mention that William is a shape shifter, which I gather makes him rather hard to find? Naturally, William and Margaret encounter trouble along the way from the jealous forest queen and an unprincipled journeyman.
The Hazards of Love is my introduction to The Decemberists, and what a find meeting it has been! Meloy’s vocal intonation combined with enticing Old World lyrics and sometimes eerie melodies produce an album different than most others. Even without the storyline, each song can be enjoyed on its own. Even so, I do have my favorites, which include the fast-paced “Annan Water” in which William (voiced by Meloy) contemplates how to cross the river to get to his beloved Margaret. There are four actual songs entitled “The Hazards of Love,” which are each telling and soulful. Each character is given life by a different singer—Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond as Margaret and My Bright Diamond’s Shara Worden as the forest queen.
Falling Up’s Fangs! is decidedly different. Based on a script written by lead singer Jessy Ribordy, Fangs! is narrated by an unnamed hero who has journeyed to a nearby planet after the children on his own planet have been struck by golden arrows causing them to fall into a deep sleep. The songs are a series of reports that the hero is sending back to his home planet. Instead of following a defined plot like The Hazards of Love, Fangs! contains a series of sequential songs, which are stories in and of themselves.
Ribordy’s vocals are haunting and the lyrics are often perplexing, yet beautifully woven. Really, Fangs! is poetry in its purest form, similar in style to early Greek epics like Oedipus or Antigone. In “Goddess of Dayspring, Am I” nods to Shakespeare’s Ophelia (Hamlet), who is found dead with flowers woven in her. Since I’ve done a “Take 5” for Backseat Writer (read it) and an audio interview for The Christian Manifesto with Jessy, I think you should check those sources for more information about this unique and clever album.
Both The Decemberists and Falling Up do more than make mere concept albums, but instead turn the world of music on its head with something new, and yet strangely old with tales of fantasy and fiction set to a backdrop of brilliant orchestration and poetic lyrics.