Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sexuality in the Decemberists's Songs

I like this kinda pretentious indie rock band called The Decemberists. Seeing them in concert was one of the highlights of last year's summer. As I was listening to them today I got to thinking about how they portray sexuality in their music. They're the kind of band that writes songs about all kinds of epic, dramatic things, especially murder and rape and revenge--very 19th century in some ways. One of my favorite songs of theirs is also about a rape. But to their credit, they have songs about consensual sex as well. I'd like to discuss both, so first off, take a listen to "The Landlord's Daughter" from The Crane Wife

This song is exciting and thrilling. It switches between major and minor chords, which maybe is a good depiction for something exciting but also wrong ("I produced my pistol, then my saber"). The lyrics pound out in iambic pentameter, and the song ends with a bang (gunshot). Immediately following is a somber song about burying a dead person, which wraps the violence up with some more appropriate somberness. Still, I feel guilty enjoying this song. Does it celebrate violence against women? Is it merely capturing the thrill that comes from that sort of violence?

In contrast to this predator-prey relationship, the couple in The Hazards of Love has a consensual love relationship. The song "Won't Want for Love" examines the longing Margaret has for her lover:

Margaret pleads with the forest to make it easier for her to see her lover, complaining that "the wood's all growing thick and fast around," acting as a metaphor for her growing need to see her lover (sexual and otherwise). Notably, the excitement isn't violent and demanding, but constant and dully urgent, like the bass's constant pulsing. Margaret acknowledges she is pregnant, but assures her lover that "all this stirring inside my belly won't quell my want for love." It's taboo enough to talk about women's sexual desires, but to acknowledge that a pregnant woman might still want some lovin'--that's what I like about the Decemberists. 

The bedroom scene depicted in "Isn't it a Lovely Night" from the same album is also refreshingly family-oriented. It focuses not just on "our breaths so switftly lifting from our chests" but also "Isn't it a lovely way we got in from our play / isn't it a babe? A sweet little baby." 

I like that there are popular songs about sex that aren't just about having a poker face or calling me babe, that acknowledge female sexuality as well as male sexuality. And I still don't really know what to feel about "The Landlord's Daughter."