Song 121: The Decemberists, “Don’t Carry It All” (2011)


I love the Decemberists, but I’m not a fan of their more complicated work. I occasionally feel guilty about this fact, because any artist should be commended for trying something new (composing a rock-opera about a shape-shifting forest animal, for example). But I’m just much more attached to their more tuneful, simple songs. They’re more airy, less cluttered. Meloy’s verbose lyrics (which, no matter the song, I generally like) often give his heavy songs too much added weight.

So songs like “Don’t Carry It All” are right up my alley. The King Is Dead isn’t my favorite Decemberists record (that would be the amazing Crane Wife), but it’s damn good, and “Don’t Carry It All” is a perfect choice as its opening track. The album isn’t entirely light in tone, but the sound is unencumbered, as if the band decided The Hazards of Love was a bunch of tension in need of release.

When I heard this song for the first time, I was in a similar emotional state. I wasn’t distraught, but there was a lot on my mind: I was driving to visit an elderly, dying great-aunt in a nursing home, and my daughter’s arrival was a few months away. The sky was gray, and I was on the bland Route 128 on a Sunday afternoon. “Don’t Carry It All,” its opening kick-drum and snare acting like a pat on the shoulder, cleared the cobwebs. It always does.


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