John Patrick
LV Life Editor

For those who are tired of cookie cutter music that is more about pleasing the fashion-conscious adolescent masses than actually coming close to intelligent artistic expression, the Decemberists’ fourth album, “Picaresque,” is an oasis in the wasteland.

Like other albums by this Portland, Oregon based band, “Picaresque” is a monument to their own ethos—an amalgamation of musical styles that includes indy sensibilities, sea shanties, waltzes and eastern European flare to create a sound that is both unique and enjoyable.

But beyond catchy tunes with great hooks, the Decemberists display two characteristics that set them further apart from today’s mainstream music scene. The first is their ability to tell stories through song. Unlike so many of today’s musicians who glorify sexuality and materialism, the Decemberists create heartfelt music full of whimsical characters. Such is the case of “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” which is about a young man who sets sail with a privateer to track down and deliver revenge upon a man who had wronged his family.

The second of the Decemberists defining quirks goes a long way to propping up the first.

It is lead singer and songwriter Colin Meloy’s ability to wield a wide and eccentric vocabulary. Evident in the album’s title, this ability makes songs like “Infanta,” “The Bagman’s Gambit,” “The Sporting Life” and “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” all the more enjoyable.

As if this weren’t enough, the technical ability of the band members is evident as they play a whole array of instruments. In addition to the bass, drums and guitars, violins, tam-tams, shofars, accordions and a whole host of other instruments are used to create the Decemberists’ signature sound.

All in all, this album does not disappoint. Though I wouldn’t recommend it to those who are looking for mainstream, corporate schlock, it should be deeply satisfying for those who try to steer clear of America’s top 40.

John Patrick can be reached at

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Posted May 6, 2005