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The Decemberists - Picaresque CD (album) cover


The Decemberists


Prog Folk

3.60 | 71 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars Up until I saw the Decmeberists' guitar feud with Stephen Colbert, my prog folk was mainly limited to Jethro Tull. After the hilarous duel, I checked out the Decemberists to see if I would like them. Much to my surprise, they hae become the first folk band since Tull to really rock. This band is an odd assortment of indie pop, punk (this album was released on the seminal punk label Kill Rock Stars), and full on progressive folk. The band sound like a cabaret band from the post Civil War era, but with electric instruments and a DIY attitude. The lyrics are always bizarre and, on this album, tend to deal with a struggle against corrupt society. Meloy uses 19th and early 20th century situations to comment on modern issues, though sometimes it's not a metaphor and is in fact about those times. As Bob Moore so skillfully pointed out, the charcters Meloy puts in the songs seem like outtakes from Candide.

The thing that grabs me most about The Decemberists is the weird take on vocals. Meloy's nasal droning is complimented by Petra Haden, who sounds as if she couldn't care less about her parts. The band wondefully mixes many sounds, nearly all of them older than old-school, into a beautiful whole. 16 Military Wives is an anti-war song that delivers its message without the rage of typical anti-war songs. Heck, it's actually funny with the self-deprecating look at America. The Sporting Life is an ode for the kids who were better suited for reviewing prog albums than playing ball ;). Several songs are tied to the last studio album "Castaways and Cutouts." We Both Go Down Together is the prequel for "Lesley Anne Levine,"and On the Bus Mall precedes "Grace Cathedral Hall." Meloy has a thing for moving backwards with his stories (on their next album, Crane Wife #3 comes before 1 and 2). The Engine Driver feautures so many characters you'll be mistaking this for a Gabriel-era Genesis release. Other than 16 Military Wives, the best song on the album is The Mariner's Revenge Song where two sailors find themselves in a Jonah-like situation in a whale, but with the twist that one of the sailors has been hunting the other for 15 years for ruining his mother.

Picaresque is where The Decemberists really start to put things together. They mesh folk, rock, and punk like no else can (come to think of it, I don't think anyone else has ever tried), using terrific arrangements over the flashy guitar workouts that have come to be a staple of modern prog. Things would vastly improve with their next release, but this is still a fine album full of fun and accessible prog folk.

Grade: C+

1800iareyay | 3/5 |


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