Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fun with Data #1: The Decemberists

No one has mastered the art of storytelling in song more than the Decemberists. From operatic epics like The Tain and The Hazards of Love to sea shanties like "The Mariner's Revenge Song", Colin Meloy and the Decemberists' moody tales of half-remembered evenings in San Francisco and Victorian-era ne'er-do-wells are gorgeous and intriguing.

I discovered the Decemberists completely by accident. I saw Castaways and Cutouts in a record store. Liking the cover art and knowing that I could trust just that about anything released by the Kill Rock Stars label would be excellent, I bought it having never heard their music or even their name before.

At first, it didn't grab me. I found Colin Meloy's voice a bit off-putting, listened to it once and forgot about it. But somewhere in the back of my mind, it got me. A few weeks later, I had the melody to "Grace Cathedral Hill" (still one of my all-time favorite songs) in my head. I dug into my collection and popped C&C back into my CD player. This time, they grabbed me. And they never let go.

Okay, enough with the personal anecdote. This post is called "Fun with data"... So where is the data?

One thing fans of the Decemberists know that there are some common themes in the various tales. Just how common are these themes? Well, I decided to find out, and conducted an exhaustive search of the Decemberists' songs. Here's what I found:

Songs included are the 66 songs from the five full albums, 5 Songs and The Tain. "Past" indicates a song that identifiably takes place at least 20 years prior to the present day. "Death", "Drowning", and "Murder" are not mutually exclusive, and a single incident may be counted among all three (see: "The Rake"). Full data available for peer review prior to publication in a major academic journal. As it surely will be. Right? ... Right?