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iTunes Review

Decemberists' lead singer/songwriter Colin Meloy likes a good put-on. He's less the leader of a five-piece indie-rock band from Portland, Oregon than the high-school theater director of "South Pacific" gone stark, raving mad. For his band's third album, Picaresque, Meloy continues his obsession with life's quirky characters - suicides, military wives, failed athletes - setting their unfortunate tales to music that recalls the rushing waves of the sea and the ornate production principles of '60s psychedelia. He can be too precious ("Of Angels and Angles" wouldn't impress a dyslexic), but he often imbues his characters with a humanity and self-knowledge that make them sympathetic in their ambitions ("The Sporting Life"). Picaresque was recorded over three weeks in a former Baptist church and features a grand sound - with fourteen guest musicians on trumpet, trombone, and something called "The Worm Hole," - that lends even the darkest tale a circus-like enthusiasm and festivity. Whether these are all shaggy-dog stories or genuine tales of heartache and woe, Meloy is one of the few songwriters who goes beyond his thesaurus to capture a world where "folderol" can be rhymed with "chaparral" without blushing.

Customer Reviews

So Good, I Stopped Writing Songs

Maybe, maybe once a year you come across an album that makes you realize as a songwriter "I will never be this good and I should quit now." If the Decemberists never become big as REM (and they probably wont), then you again realize, A. The world doesnt want quality, and B. So why bother. Decemberists Colin Meloy is a masterful storyteller, reminiscent of another musical storytelling genius left, Robyn Hitchcock. Why he gets criticized for doing what Hitchcock or Michael Stipe have done for years is beyond me. The guy read a book, so he gets stuck in the eye for it. The Decemberists are so uniquely refreshing because they resist the cliche requisite that artists are supposed to wear their emotions on their sleeve. These are not Top 40 buffoons who let us into their "raw" personal intimate thoughts which only reveal how shallow and moronic those artists are.. Instead, the Decemberists return music to what it does best - storytelling in tradition of Tom Waits and the Beatles Rubber Soul/Seargent Peppers. Finally, an album where we dont have to suffer "artists" whining about their one-dimensional, inarticulate feelings, which always sounds in the end like a high school kid's lame diary entry anyway. The Decemberists are one of the only bands left for grown ups.

The Best of 2005?

I really can't think of an album that does a better job of conjuring up such wonderful images in ones mind as you listen to it. Each track is incredibly evocative of a scene... from the spy-tales of 'The Bagman's Gambit', through the Victorian seaman life of 'The Mariner's Revenge', to the incredibly clever anti-war protest song '16 Military Wives'. It seems the Decemberists have produced the best of their career in Picaresque: it's varied, imaginative, and musically excellent. Overall making the album great fun to listen to - and one of the best of 2005.


Colin Meloy seems to have realized that if Homer were alive today, he'd be a rock star. And, even if he's never thought that, his songs are in an Homeric tradition. Best example: "The Bagman's Gambit" where he manages to write a song about espionage that avoids being a send-up, is exciting as the subject and actually manages a few notes of emotional genuinity. The criticism of The Decemberists will be that the music is too much; too overstuffed with words and overblown with heightened emotion. Which is true, but also why it's so damned refreshing. It's music for people who don't need the creative cynicism of pop music or the actual cyncism of the past 15 years of alternative music.


Formed: 2000 in Portland, OR

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Led by Montana native Colin Meloy, the Decemberists craft theatrical, hyper-literate pop songs that draw heavily from late-'60s British folk acts like Fairport Convention and Pentangle and the early-'80s college rock grandeur of the Waterboys and R.E.M. The band's initial lineup also included drummer Ezra Holbrook, bassist Nate Query, keyboardist/accordionist Jenny Conlee, and multi-instrumentalist Chris Funk. Frontman Meloy had previously devoted some time to an alternative country group before...
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