“5 Songs” was The Decemberists first release, a CD EP in 2001. “The Tain” was an EP released around the time of “Her Majesty” and this coupling of the two was issued on vinyl as a MiniLP in 2004.
“The Tain” is actually a single 18 minute long track split in to 5 parts. It’s based on the Irish mythical epic “Táin Bó Cúailnge”, often shortened to “The Táin”., it was also recorded in musical form by famed Irish band Horslips in 1973. It tells the story of a war against Ulster by Queen Medb of Connacht and her husband King Ailill who intend to steal the stud bull Donn Cuailnge. Because of a curse upon the king and warriors of Ulster, the invaders are opposed only by the young demigod Cú Chulainn (although I gotta admit the lyrics don’t seem to directly address such a story!). A bit Prog Rock? You betcha it is! From its ominous opening section, head banging part 2, a mournful third bit, lullaby like part four and ending with a suitably rousing climax featuring guitar riffs that refer you back to part 1, Genesis or the Tull woulda been proud. It’s something I’ve had to get used to with The Decemberists (Prog is most definitely a dirty word in my world) but they do it with such a twinkle in their eye I can forgive them their proclivities.
“5 Songs” in actuality contains 6 songs, the final “Apology Song” (originally sung into his friends answering machine after Colin Meloy had lost his pals bicycle) was added after the artwork had been finalised. The first song “Oceanside” still features occasionally in their live sets; “Shiny” contains a lyric about a “dull and witless boy”, the handle Meloy still uses online; “My Mother Was A Chinese Trapeze Artist" was recorded by Meloy’s previous band Tarkio; following the bouncy jangle-pop of "Angel Won't You Call Me", “I Don’t Mind” is the first Decemberists released song concerned with a common theme in their music, death and suicide (cheery huh ?), we will meet these subjects often.
Here we have a band starting out and then starting on a long form of storytelling, an idea they will further develop a few years later on “The Hazards Of Love”. Not essential but I find it all very listenable.
The Tain - https://youtu.be/i44Gc6N80mc