Oh how I long for the old days of the Decemberists. When I was weaseling my way out of exclusively listening to punk rock in 2003 (much to the chagrin of my high school lunch room tablemates) the Decemberists were there to teach me that they were basically ripping off Neutral Milk Hotel and led me to what is easily my favorite record of all time. Yet, at the same time, their old-timey flair worked its charms on me. Granted, it was Colin Meloy’s songwriting that got me. I’ve been a lyrics kid for as long as I can remember (deciphering the meaning of Dion’s “Runaround Sue” at the age of 7, realizing it was about a tramp) and Meloy’s words were fun to sing along to. Though they’ve basically been beating a dead horse since singing to Capitol (though you could say they were riding a very ill horse that was doomed to die when the shtick wore out after three records), the old records are still fun to listen to. Now I listen to them with a certain nostalgia and recognize exactly why I loved Castaways & Cutouts in the latter years of high school and the early years of college. It was fun while it lasted, but I mean, c’mon. I had a chance to see the Decemberists for free at the Uptown Theatre last week and declined because I could barely get through their latest record, The Hazards of Love. That and I’ve already seen them like, three or four times (and though the first at the Jackpot wasn’t the best (it was the second at the Granada), I’ll never forget when the fire alarm went off as Meloy was trying to cover “Ask” by the Smiths on a misty night in October of 2004). Regardless, I still think that “Grace Cathedral Hill” is one of the most beautiful songs ever written (along with “Red Right Ankle” on Her Majesty). “California One/Youth and Beauty Brigade” was one of the first long songs I heard in modern music (when I started listening to modern music) that made me realize that it is a gamble to try a 9-minute song and a triumph to pull it off. The latter applies to that song, which is a total jam. And while they’ll be best known for “Here I Dreamt I was an Architect” and a couple of ill-conceived concept albums, jams like “July, July!” and “Odalisque” will always be little known masterpieces. That and of course, “Grace Cathedral Hill,” which I can’t get enough of. It might be Meloy’s masterpiece.