Decemberists stay originial despite move to big label

The Decemberists

“The Crane’s Wife”

3.5 out of 5 stars

A casual fan might listen to this album and ask, “What the hell was Colin Meloy thinking?” Granted, much has changed with the band’s fifth release. Foremost is that the group left noted indie label Kill Rock Stars and took the major label money that Capitol Records offered. So here’s the puzzle: why would Meloy (frontman and songwriter) use this opportunity to write and record the band’s most ambitious work to date?

The answer: why not? The Decemberists has never been a group to follow the status quo. The elegant brand of folk-inspired chamber pop has put the band in a class of its own. As does this album. Inspired by a Japanese folk tale, it finds the band expanding its sound, aspiring to a new level of grandeur. And while there are a few minor slip-ups, more often than not, the efforts come to fruition.

Ultimately, it’s a very good album from a band whose fan base grows at a steady rate. There are some catchy songs on here featuring Meloy’s trademark storytelling writing style and vocal delivery, plus co-producer Chris Walla (Death Cab For Cutie) manages to not overproduce it. It may not be quite as good as the last album, “Picaresque,” but it’s a fine major-label debut from a fine band.

Key Tracks: “The Crane’s Wife Pt. 3,” “O Valencia!” “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)”

Lupe Fiasco

“Food & Liquor”

3.5 out of 5 stars

How many people can name a hip-hop star besides Kayne West who hails from Chicago? Let’s see . not too many hands out there. Other than West and Common, there haven’t been many big names within the hip-hop ethos to emerge from the Windy City. Then came Lupe Fiasco (a.k.a. Wasalu Muhammad Jaco).

Lupe Fiasco is already a bit of a hip-hop anomaly, at least at face value. Besides hailing from Chicago, he has a number of martial arts black belts and is an avid skateboarder, two traits not common among modern rap artists. But there’s nothing strange when it comes to the music. Fiasco’s rhyming delivery comes across like a combination of Common and Mos Def, while the lyrical material is intelligent and thought-provoking. The album’s title is a representation of life, with the “Food” symbolizing the good and the “Liquor” the bad.

There are a few missteps that one can attribute to youth, such as the over seven-minute long final track of nothing but shout-outs. Plus, a few of the beats are overblown with layers upon layers of break beats, enough to make one dizzy. In the end, the truth is that Lupe can rap and that alone should put him among a select few within hip-hop.

Key Tracks: “Kick, Push,” “The Instrumental” (feat. Jonah Matranga), “Daydreamin'” (feat. Jill Scott)