Mar 252022

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30. Jesse Burns – Sons and Daughters

We kick things off with one of the silliest covers of the bunch – and one of the most inventive too. Loopmaster Jesse Burns (his website is literally layers bass, multiple electric and acoustic guitars, and a whole bunch of vocals parts atop each other for a one-man-band “Sons and Daughters” singalong. What really pushes it over the top is the “Careless Whisper”-style sax solo. Yes, it gets looped into the mix too. – Ray Padgett

29. Glockenspiel Wake Up Call – Dear Avery

This version faithfully maintains the dissonant acoustic guitar beginning and transition points of the Decemberists’ The King Is Dead original. The duet style vocals also remain, this time flipping the roles of the male and female voices. No percussion joins in for extra emphasis, but the guitar fervency does ebb and flow to denote the swells of emotion. – Sara Stoudt

28. Callipygian – When the War Came

This song, which is about the horrific 900-day siege of Leningrad by the Nazis during World War II, is a dark, Led Zeppelin-ish stomp, and the original’s music matches the message. According to Decemberists frontman Colin Meloy, the idea for the song came to him after reading Hunger, a book about the siege, and the story of how the scientists facing starvation at a botanical institute protected the institute’s collection of seeds and plants. The cover, by Georgia-based band Callipygian (which human thesaurus Meloy certainly knows means “having well-shaped buttocks”), was recorded live in 2013 at the Infusion Festival in Dragon Hills, Georgia, and it downplays the Zep bombast for a moodier indie-rock sound. – Jordan Becker

27. Derek Reynolds – Carolina Low

On Decemberesque, Derek Reynolds records an entire Decemberists covers EP on ukulele. On some songs, he adds more instruments on top, but “Carolina Low” is just him and the uke. He writes, “Dark… dark dark dark. How can this song NOT effect [sic] you, not sure what the story is but sure it isn’t pretty. This is my favorite song off What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World and it sounds to me like it should be on a Ken Burns documentary, maybe a documentary I wouldn’t want to see.” – Jane Callaway

26. Lindsey Stirling & Shaun Canon – Don’t Carry It All

Sure, it’s the same tune, but, honestly, did you recognize it? A mystical transformation comes over all Bruce Hornsbyesque here, at least on the vocal and piano front. The alchemy includes the manic violin of Sterling, as much fun to watch as to listen to. She actually reached fame via America’s Got Talent a decade and some ago, as, it says here, a hip-hop violinist, and seems to have had a fairly stellar career since. Canon, himself a graduate of American Idol, runs a covers band, the pair meeting through their shared membership of the Mormon church. – Seuras Og

25. Isaac Minogue & Jessee Fish – Shankill Butchers

Minogue and Fish take this dirge and turn it into a slightly less depressing-sounding dirge. The piano and violin combination and a slightly speedier pace make for a song that’s nearly as unsettling as the original but just a bit prettier. Add in some great harmonies, and it’s a recipe for a beautiful song about a pack of murderous butchers that will come kill you in your sleep. – Mike Misch

24. Là Bas – A Cautionary Song

Straying little from the original arrangement, Là Bas do ramp up the Grimm in this fairy tale of disquiet. Difficult to find much information about this band, but I eventually tracked down their Facebook page, which describes them as “a Detroit-based cacophonous consort of teeth and blood and bad decisions.” I rather like that description, which fits their more-enthusiasm-than-expertise swagger through the song. I’ll bet Meloy wishes his own band looked like this. Who knows–maybe in a parallel universe they do. – Seuras Og

23. Jubal’s Kin – Eli The Barrow Boy

“Eli The Barrow Bow” is a simple, sad tale of a poor “barrow boy” who, saddened by his inability to provide comforts for his now-dead love, drowns himself (but, in Decemberists’ style, still manages to narrate the song). The original is a quiet, haunting song featuring Meloy’s voice, acoustic guitar, and Petra Haden’s harmony vocal (and another instrument which might be Haden’s violin or synthesizer—I’m not sure). Jubal’s Kin, a self-described “Appalachia-infused Cosmic Americana” band from Florida that is fronted by brother and sister Roger (guitar, vocals and other stings) and Gailanne Amundsen (vocals, banjo, and fiddle, among others), and also includes brother Jeffrey on bass, flips the genders of the lead and harmony vocals for a beautiful take on the song that seems more weary than haunting. – Jordan Becker

22. Die Trying – The Engine Driver

Emerging from a deep dark Bandcamp wormhole is Die Trying’s woolly cover of “The Engine Driver” (stylized as “engine driver”). Die Trying appears to be a mysterious solo act, based in Fort Collins, Colorado. Beyond this simple location pin, Die Trying seems inclined to otherwise lurk in the recesses. Their cover is similarly distant, arriving as the last track on the expanded edition of DT’s self-titled / self-released 2017 record. Drawn from The Decemberists’ classic Picaresque, “The Engine Driver” is normally a plainspoken, heart-on-sleeve character study. But here, “engine driver” sounds isolated and fully obscured: played back from inside a burlap sack, recorded at the bottom of a well. Take all of this as a compliment, though — it’s hard to remain a true enigma these days, and Die Trying’s “engine driver” fully gets there. They’re just the kind of rake/gadabout that The Decemberists themselves might appreciate. – Ben Easton

21. Anaïs Mitchell – Grace Cathedral Hill

Stars Rock Kill (Rock Stars) is a label tribute along the lines of Rubaiyat, saluting the people who have performed on the Portland, Oregon indie label Kill Rock Stars with covers of their work. (It’s available here if you’re so inclined.) One of the saluters in Anaïs Mitchell, the creator of the Broadway hit Hadestown and an alum of the Time 100 Most Influential People (class of ’20). She takes “Grace Cathedral Hill” and makes a beautifully dewy shawl of its melancholy. “I’m still so moved by these words every time I hear them,” Mitchell said, “and tho I can’t know what was running through Colin Meloy’s mind when he wrote them, for me they paint a picture of: ‘Death is a small price to pay for life.'” – Patrick Robbins


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  2 Responses to “The 30 Best Decemberists Covers Ever”

Comments (2)
  1. All well and good, but how does this not include Aimee Mann’s Engine Driver?

  2. Hey I’m Josh Belville, aka Here Lies Laika. Thanks so much for putting me on this list! I am shocked and honored. I kept getting notifications of people buying the track on Bandcamp all of a sudden and I couldn’t figure out why, haha. Truly honored, thank you for appreciating my silly little pop punk cover.

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