Review: Jack Foley
PORTLAND-based artists, The Decemberists, have gone from relative
obscurity to growing success thanks to a winning combination of
critical praise and packed concert houses.
They are a five-piece fronted by Colin Meloy and powered by Chris
Funk, Nate Query and Jenny Conlee’s eclectic instrumentation,
with Rachel Blumberg providing some thunderous percussion.
Yet while they embrace antiquity, they are careful to remain
contemporary, delivering rich, deeply layered songs that take
time to unfold and tell a story.
Picaresque is their third album and derives its name from the
strange adventures populated by rogues, where romantic wastrels
have written paeans to suicide, love and revenge.
You can tell from the names alone - Eli, The Barrow Boy,
The Bagman's Gambit and The Mariner's Revenge Song,
for example - that their songs are carefully created stories that
are built around a central concept.
They transport you to a different place, or time, and require
the maximum attention to be appreciated properly.
At times, they recall the raw, edgy brilliance of The White Stripes,
or the shuffling breeziness of Ben Folds Five.
While their music is continually evolving and encapsulates a
lot of different styles - from straightforward acoustic-folk to
quirky submariner's tales.
Highlights include the upbeat Military Wives, which
provides a terrific platform for Meloy’s dynamic vocal style,
and a genuinely thrilling chorus.
Or The Engine Driver, a bittersweet ballad that draws
on a nice vocal trade-off and some nice instrumentation, as well
as a gloriously heartfelt chorus ('And if you don't love me let
Of Angels and Angles draws the album to a poignant close and
is probably the most stripped down track of the lot, featuring
Meloy's vocals and a lone guitar.
But it makes a nice change from some of the more adventurous
and offbeat tales, such as The Mariner's Revenge Song,
that contains plenty of musical nods to its seafaring roots.
Picaresque was produced by Chris Walla (Death Cab For
Cutie) in a Portland church that was also being used as a day-care
One has only to look at the artwork and accompanying photos to
realise that The Decemberists are an eccentric bunch that refuse
to pander to mainstream values.
As such, much of their work should be embraced. It might be a
little too meticulous for some, while those with short attention
spans are advised to stay away.
But for anyone seeking something that dares to be different,
it provides an interesting alternative that is well worth exploring.