I’ve never really liked the Decemberists, though for the longest time I didn’t want to admit that I actually hate them. There was always something about Colin Meloy’s earnest lit obsessions that made me picture him as the kind of 11-year-old who’s as obsessed with The Iliad and The Odyssey as much as he is with The Uncanny X-Men—in other words, someone I could’ve been best friends with when I was the same age. But baseless fictional nostalgia isn’t enough to build a real relationship on, and I finally have to admit that I can’t stand the dude.
Maybe it was actually listening to the Decemberists that did it. Maybe it was seeing the smug, “Watch me say words—important words,” look on his face during their segment on the Burn to Shine Vol. 3: Portland, OR DVD. Or maybe it was Chris Ott’s essay on the Village Voice Web site, which crystallized my formless anti-Decemberists-ism—though more likely it was their fans’ frantic, ignorant comments in response to the piece. It may even have been simply hearing too much about Colin Meloy’s “tain” that did it. But now, yes, I hate them.
Which is why I thought it was funny when their new single, “O Valencia,” came on an alt-rock station during my stay in Portland and I liked it immediately. Then I realized why I like it, which made the whole thing even funnier: “O Valencia” is a straight-up emo pop song. Strip off the song’s Neutral Milk Hotel-meets-the-La’s arrangement, show the band how to use a distortion pedal, somehow add a bit of expressiveness to Meloy’s nasal drone, and you’ve got yourself something that could work as the second single off a Plain White T’s album. The structure, the melody, the whole foundation of the song is indistinguishable from almost any half-assed MySpace emo band. It makes me wonder just how many horn-rimmed pretention-dogs there are out there with big Taking Back Sunday-shaped holes in their lives. (PS: If you think you may be one of these people, please buy the new Brand New record. It might save you somehow.)