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The Decemberists - Picaresque (Cover Artwork)

The Decemberists

The Decemberists: PicaresquePicaresque (2005)
Kill Rock Stars

Reviewer Rating: 4.5
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Contributed by: AnchorsAnchors
(others by this writer | submit your own)

Among all the half-assed bands parading around with names stolen from the calendar, there's one that sticks out far above the rest. A beacon, dimly lit, but visible no matter your vantage point. That's the Decemberists. Their relatively reserved approach to songwriting is one that has garnered them .
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Among all the half-assed bands parading around with names stolen from the calendar, there's one that sticks out far above the rest. A beacon, dimly lit, but visible no matter your vantage point. That's the Decemberists. Their relatively reserved approach to songwriting is one that has garnered them accolades all across the indie rock world. Picaresque does nothing, if not continuing in the fine, albeit short tradition that the band has established for themselves.

More than anything else, it begins and ends on the trusty chords of singer Colin Meloy. A voice rooted in British folk, Meloy honed his sound in an alt-country group before breaking away and eventually meeting up with the four other musicians who would form the Decemberists. Unconventional in every sense of the word, the band opts for a much more eclectic songwriting approach. Upright bass, steel guitar, accordion, and piano all weave their way into their sound, and that versatility is something they rely heavily on. Not content with a uniform sound, the tempo and instrumentation vary quite a bit, letting each song develop its own unique identity.

The more upbeat tracks like "The Sporting Life" display Meloy's vocal charm as much as the playful way in which each musician contributes their instrument. The song relies heavily on a foot tap-inducing rhythm section, and some real subtle accordion usage under the bouncily sung delivery, but the most important thing to remember is that Mr. Meloy is the consummate storyteller. The imagery is vivid and the adjectives perfectly descriptive of every single facet in a given situation. This is exemplified by the haunting, "Eli, the Barrow Boy," in which Meloy laments his inability to afford the rich items he desires for his lover, until it becomes too late, and she passes away, and he realizes "I must push my barrow all the day." The sorrow in his voice is absolutely riveting, and you cannot help put picture the scene as the story unfolds in front of you.

"On the Bus Mall" has a similar effect, in the brilliant way in which the story is told by the raspy baritone vocals. The simplistic strumming of the steel guitar and delicate plucking of the bass sets a rich instrumental background, and really enriches the atmosphere of it all. Sprawling and gorgeous, each of the song's six minutes hides something new to discover, and upon that discovery it holds that extra bit of weight it may not have before. Despite the often bleak lyrical ,utlook, the Decemberists cannot always be held down, as the rousing shanty "Mariner's Revenge Song" does attest. The accordion is in full bloom, and the spirit of a high seas adventure is gleefully told. The jaunty track goes through several stages until finally ending by way of some invigorating accordion work.

Musically diverse as the album is, as great as Colin Meloy's vocals sound throughout, at the heart of it all are the terrific stories being told. You're not liable to find a sadder song in your life than "Eli, the Barrow Boy," it's something that will haunt you long after listening; the impact is truly surreal. You're also not liable to find as completely feeling of an indie rock record as this for quite a while. It's possibly the best I've heard since Neutral Milk Hotel's 1998 classic In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

Only three full-lengths into their career, the Decemberists have stumbled upon the perfect formula for success; this one will be hard to top.

 

 
People who liked this also liked:
The Lawrence Arms - Oh! Calcutta!Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The SeaRefused - The Shape of Punk to ComeModest Mouse - Good News For People Who Love Bad NewsThe Clash - London CallingThe Weakerthans - Reconstruction SiteThe Lawrence Arms - The Greatest Story Ever ToldExplosions In The Sky - Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live ForeverPelican - The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the ThawPixies - Doolittle

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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
ebdrummer20 (June 1, 2009)

great album

McSmyth (December 17, 2006)

This is one of my favourite albums of all time, but I have to say, I prefer "Castaways and Cutouts." I am a bit partial to "The Mariner's Revenge Song," and I believe it to be far more haunting than "Eli, the Barrow Boy."

Anonymous (February 19, 2006)

awesome awesome awesome album.
But Castaways and Cutouts is better.

klonny (February 11, 2006)

Hmmm...Neutral Milk Hotel, you say? Then I'll give this album a chance.

Scruffy (February 10, 2006)

I'm not drunk, but I'm buzzed enough that I'm not 100% sure that that's sarcasm.
Arrested Development was awesome.

Anonymous (February 10, 2006)

heyyy welcome to the comment section! looking for a cool guy? just look directly below this here comment.

Scruffy (February 10, 2006)

Meh, I can be.
But we're also in the midst of a discussion about bands I can't stand. If this were a discussion about Lawrence Arms, Bad Religion, Ghoti Hook, Jawbreaker, Farside, Lifetime, None More Black, The Loved Ones, Green Day, Millencolin or Lagwagon, to name a few, I'd be very positive.

Anonymous (February 10, 2006)

you sound like a pretty negative dude.

Scruffy (February 10, 2006)

I'm 24. I dislike the Sex Pistols. I've gone on iTunes specifically to see which of these bands I like and dislike. This band isn't that bad, though the whole "pirate" schtick really turns me off. I think the Arcade Fire are incredibly overrated. When I heard them, I didn't think they were horrible. That's reserved for stuff like Orange and Finch. I thought, "This?! This is what EVERYONE thinks is the best album of the year? This is what passes for depth?"
But, then again, I think Lagwagon released the best CD of last year, so keep that in mind. We probably don't agree on much music at all.
Oh, and Clap your Hands Say Yeah? Yeah, I'm judging them without hearing them. That's the dumbest name ever. Also, The Go! Team are awful, and I've heard them. Regretfully, I've heard them.

Anonymous (February 9, 2006)

Some of the comments here must come straight from 15 year olds. To whomever says CYHSY are crap, I don't think you've even heard them. You don't want to buy into the hype, so you don't even try. Idiots.

And for the moron who also cited "wolf party" you should think before you post. It's Wolf Parade, and their full-length debut is amazing.

And the Arcade Fire do, in fact, write "actual songs." No wonder this is "punknews.org." Everyone's so punk, they wouldn't know their ass from a hole in the ground. Now, go back to listening to the Sex Pistols. They write "actual songs."

Score is for the posters.

Jim

Anonymous (February 9, 2006)

anyone that doesn't like modest mouse is a true fucking retard, if you ask me.

k-dubs (February 8, 2006)

score is for levitateme. just because.

LevitateMe (February 8, 2006)

Fuck, I made it all italics

LevitateMe (February 8, 2006)

In my opinion, there are only three good songs on TM&A: "3rd Planet," "I Came As a Rat," and "Paper Walls." Everything else just sounds like boring radio music, with the exception of the overly long piece of crap "The Stars are Projectors" and the pointless "Wild Packs of Family Dogs."

-Chinatown

You just mentioned the singles (or the most single-worthy) songs on the album are the good ones, and to you the rest sounds like "radio music"?

Have you even listened to "Alone Down There," "Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes," "What People Are Made Of," "The Cold Part," or "A Different City?" Have you even listened to this album at all?

danperrone (February 8, 2006)

personally,

i hate this album

Anonymous (February 8, 2006)

If you're coming at Pavement from the punk perspective try Baptist Blacktick or No Life Singed Her.

Decemberists rock. Personal fav's by them are Red Right Ankle and Grace Cathedral Hill. Of Angels and Angles on this one.

Anonymous (February 7, 2006)

Just buy and listen to The Moon and Antarctica for their best work.

In my opinion, there are only three good songs on TM&A: "3rd Planet," "I Came As a Rat," and "Paper Walls." Everything else just sounds like boring radio music, with the exception of the overly long piece of crap "The Stars are Projectors" and the pointless "Wild Packs of Family Dogs."

-Chinatown

Imposs1ble (February 7, 2006)

"On the Bus Mall" is clearly the best track on this album, and yes, it's about two male prostitutes.

This album isn't quite as good as Castaways or Her Majesty, but it's still better than everything else out there.

k-dubs (February 7, 2006)

ive said it before, ill say it again. my favourite release of 2005. they really can do no wrong.

and who cared if pitchfork licks their ass, they deserve it. the song writing and execution are brilliant.

MrKaine (February 7, 2006)

Great album. I'm still a little freaked out a little about On The Bus Mall. What is it about? Prostitutes?

Scruffy (February 7, 2006)

I agree with Will on this one. The Arcade Fire are retarded. Of course, I don't like this band much, either.

Anonymous (February 7, 2006)

Best Decemberists song ever is "Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect" from Castaways & Cutouts. My personal favourite off this one is definitely "The Engine Driver".

LevitateMe (February 7, 2006)

You're way off on this one.

Anonymous (February 6, 2006)

No. The Arcade Fire write crap faux-rock dribble. Overproduced with stupid noises, too. It's the Duran Duran of 2005, and mark my words, the people who aren't laughing at it now will be laughing at it in five years.

-Will

LevitateMe (February 6, 2006)

They're not better than Arcade Fire. And I don't know what you've been listening to if you don't think Arcade Fire writes "actual songs"

Anonymous (February 6, 2006)

This isn't my favorite album ever, but it's much better than Arcade Fire or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah because this band knows how to write actual songs.

-Will

youwinalemon (February 6, 2006)

Yeah, this album is pretty much completely amazing.

Scruffy (February 6, 2006)

I don't like OK Computer. Not at all. Just sayin'.

Anonymous (February 6, 2006)

yeh that song rules, its about him looking after his friends bike while he's on holiday but it gets stolen and he tries to appologise for that, its a classic, bikes called madeline!

Yours sincerely, big chief

Anonymous (February 6, 2006)

Apology Song is their best song i think, dont know if its on this but it was on a 5 song ep they did.

REALPUNX4LIFE (February 6, 2006)

The revolutionary group was most definitely spelled "Decembrists," although that's slightly unfair for a number of reasons including time, place and language, both the evolution of language/grammar and the effects of translation. If you'd read an interview with this band (which I'm not saying you're required to, just that it's possible you would. I won't hold it against anyone if they don't read an interview with this band...) you'd notice that they only vaguely took their name from said movement. In addition to a fleeting association with the Decembrist movement, Meloy has said that December is a month in which people are usually sad and depressed and that their songs either speak to people in that frame of mind or specifically describe people in that state of mind. I don't think that the band name "The Decemberists" would exist without the movement, but they're not specifically named after the movement. Catfish?

PS This record rules your mom. "The Mariner's Revenge Song" and "The Bagman's Gambit" (in addition to "16 Military Wives" and "Eli, the Barrow Boy" [in addition to the other seven songs]) are better than most other songs released in 2005. Boom bam.

PPS As much as I admit to reading Pitchfork and kind of enjoying it... fuck Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Aside from them being boring and lame... they're really fucking boring and lame.

Archangel (February 6, 2006)

Chinatown-- 2005's "Funeral" was either Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's self-titled release or Wolf Party's full-length. The Decemberists have been around for a few years with a steady line of good releases; the Arcade Fire, CYHSY, and Wolf Party all put out debut albums that received excessive amounts of praise and hype from Pitchfork.

As for Modest Mouse, well, "Doin' the Cockroach" is one of their best songs, but there is so much more to the band than that. Just buy and listen to The Moon and Antarctica for their best work. The Lonesome Crowded West is also great, though. And you know what? Good News is an incredible album, but it's easy to discredit because A.) everyone got sick of "Float On" and B.) the band set a ridiculously high bar with TM&A.

How can there be people who don't like OK Computer? Also surprising is the lack of love for Pavement. Maybe listen to "Conduit for Sale!" before writing them off entirely.

LevitateMe (February 6, 2006)

He only gave it a 9

Sirens (February 5, 2006)

This album pretty much blows. Giving this a 9.5 is horrible suggestion. thank god it is, infact, a suggestion.

the_other_scott (February 5, 2006)

i dig some indie rock. and some mellow shit. this just didn't do it for me. for some reason it just sounds like they're trying way too hard.

LevitateMe (February 5, 2006)

This is a really good album and they put on a good show. I don't know what they're going to do on a major now, though. Their charm lies in their high school-esque amatuerism. I don't think a "serious" Decemberists album would be any good.

Russe11 (February 5, 2006)

Lonesome Crowded West is an Indie classic. This is an amazing release as well.

mjg (February 5, 2006)

i enjoy this album

Anonymous (February 5, 2006)

"Ever heard "Doin' the Cockroach" and/or "In the Mouth a Desert"? Two of the best indie rock songs of the 90s right there.

-Chinatown"

Wow, i acutally agree with you about someting. "Doin the Cockroach" is one of my favorite songs ever. I love the early Modest Mouse material. Even the new one is good, just overated.

yayforapathy

Anonymous (February 5, 2006)

the phrase "rousing shanty" made me laugh.

Anonymous (February 5, 2006)

But just for the record, I read Pitchfork daily and do not like this band or Modest Mouse or Pavement or Radiohead.

Ever heard "Doin' the Cockroach" and/or "In the Mouth a Desert"? Two of the best indie rock songs of the 90s right there.

-Chinatown

Anonymous (February 5, 2006)

The Arcade Fire have 2 good songs: "Laika" and "Rebellion (Lies)." Other than that, they sound about as indie as Coldplay.

-Chinatown

Anonymous (February 5, 2006)

I have a feeling that this album is 2005's version of Funeral, so I'm keeping my distance.

-Chinatown

Yes do your best to avoid good music..

McGarnicle (February 5, 2006)

I can see why people might not like Kid A-era Radiohead, but OK Computer and The Bends are two fucking great albums.

ElVaquero (February 5, 2006)

I can't wait for Sickboi's comments on this.

But just for the record, I read Pitchfork daily and do not like this band or Modest Mouse or Pavement or Radiohead.

Anonymous (February 5, 2006)

they really are a cut above the rest...the perfect combination of fun and beautiful

Anonymous (February 5, 2006)

I have a feeling that this album is 2005's version of Funeral, so I'm keeping my distance.

-Chinatown

Archangel (February 5, 2006)

The revolutionary group spelled it "Decembrists", but I'm pretty sure that's the basis of the name.

Absolutely great album. Mariner's Revenge Song, come on.

Anonymous (February 5, 2006)

Absolutely amazing.

Anonymous (February 5, 2006)

I think the NMH comparison comes from Colin's voice. I can kinda hear it. It is a bit like Mangum's voice...the first time I played this band for a friend, he said it made him think of NMH.

Still, the band is totally different in sound. They are amazing of course, and one of the best bands around.

Also, being compared to NMH is a compliment if you ask me.

Jim

benz (February 5, 2006)

I think the Neutral Milk Hotel comparison this band always gets is really misleading. I don't think these guys and NMH are entirely similar.

Although, I love this album. My favorite release of 2005.

-benz

istapledmyfoot (February 5, 2006)

This isn't the first time I've heard the NMH comparison.. I really want this now.

Anonymous (February 5, 2006)

Great album.

I also second that comment about the revolutionaries in Russia. Im pretty sure that the band got their name from there, and not the calendar.

Scruffy (February 5, 2006)

That song is mentioned in the 4th paragraph.

Anonymous (February 5, 2006)

You didn't even fuckin mention the Mariner's Revenge Song. Honestly, WTF?

Anonymous (February 5, 2006)

i'm pretty sure this band's name is not from the calendar but from the revolutionary russian group from the early 20th century...

i might be wrong. i think it seems to make more sense, plus makes for a better story

KirbyPuckett (February 5, 2006)

Amazing record -- On a side note, I love the video for "16 Military Wives."

- Kirby

Anonymous (February 5, 2006)

Such a good album.

-Oso

nikko (February 5, 2006)

what a great band

inagreendase (February 5, 2006)

Good album. My favorite is "Sporting Life," easy.

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