The Decemberists - Picaresque

Bill Cummings 09/08/2005

Rating: 4/5

If you've been keeping your ear to the ground Colin Meloy and his “peculiar” alt country/folk five piece The Decemberists won't be new to you (having already produced two albums and a string of great EP's). If you haven't then, their new album 'Picaresque' will be the perfect introduction to their wonderfully wide-eyed and often lovelorn sea shanties. Opening track 'The Infanta' sounds like the charge of the light brigade on horse foot: set to the most thrilling medieval country soundtrack known to man, elsewhere 'We Both Go Down Together' matches wistful folky guitars and playful violin with a doe eyed melody: the romantic tragedy of the song peaking on the final bars as you can literally hear Colin sighing out his loss. Taking things down a notch or two, 'Eli The Barrow Boy' has a hint of Bright Eyes about its solitary melancholic strum, bringing a lump to my throat, whilst 'The Engine Driver' builds deceptively into a glorious paean for the lonely workingman - it's twinkling female backed haunting refrains (including,” I am a writer, a writer of fiction, I am the heart that you call home”) are one of the highlights of this album. '16 Military Wives' has a surprisingly withering and sarcastic anti corporate set of lyrics, “And America does if /If America says its so: and the anchor person on TV goes ladadadada!” There's a sense that the polished production of this album, may lead some fools to write The Decemberists off as just another commercial bunch of folkies, producing a rustic sound in a commercial way. But that would be to miss the point: Colin and his bunch of vagabonds produce, at their ease, bittersweet musical vignettes of great beauty, updating sounds of yore with the words of the present: now there's a trick that's worth hearing.