A/V Room









The Decemberists present Picaresque

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 me go').

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 centre.

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.


Track listing:
1. The Infanta
2. We Both Go Down Together
3. Eli, The Barrow Boy
4. The Sporting Life
5. The Bagman’s Gambit
6. From My Own True Love (Lost At Sea)
7. Military Wives
8. The Engine Driver
9. On The Bus Mall
10. The Mariner’s Revenge Song
11. Of Angels and Angles

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