Album Review
by SashaS

Official website:
Label website:

Print this article
The Decemberists presnet 'Picaresque'
The Decemberists: 'Picaresque'
(Rough Trade)
The Decemberists: mini-symphonies of wonderment

Pop music is the best indicator of the state of culture by being the most common form of entertainment. And that’s been all High Street [shopping mall, for our non-Euro readers]: major chains, samey, all-uniformed, American-standardised, run-of-the-mill, as common as recycled, ‘The Da Vinci Code’-type of hypedom… Corpo-creations vs. individuality, Frankenstein vs. Ms Hyde, dull vs. inventive, dumbed down vs. innovative, bland vs. ingenious…

Forget all the crap you’ve been fed via the mass media and get ‘Picaresque’ by The Decemberists… Start to wonder about [creative] slavery because this is free, its middle name is imagination and grabs you by the hand to lead you into the garden where ‘Alice Wonderland’ hangs out. This is a parallel world, it is a trip guided by a troupe of troubadours that bow to no conventions.

That’s where The Decemberists stand and conduct their mini-symphonies of difference like they just landed from the nearby system. They play music as if informed and learnt it via some intermittently functioning satellite that only let them gain the rudiments but had to fill in a lot of spaces themselves.

Crashing into your attention with the opening ‘The Infinita’, it takes you on a voyage that rides the waves of different settings, emotions and imagery: Spanish princesses, men with foamy beards, a barrow boy, sportsmen who don’t make it to the finish line, mariner’s revenging from within a whale… Backed by accordions, jungle noises, jangly guitars, horns, violins, brass, Hurdy Gurdy…

All the way making love to your taste… Rock band this is not, typical or otherwise; it is music without frontiers that reaches many a genre but connects to few, remaining as independent as a ‘hero’ of the 1970s book, ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’. Soaring above the crap of showbiz - it is enough to listen to ‘The Bagman’s Gambit’ and go totally weightless and elated.

The quietly dynamic song is then succeeded by a lament-like ‘From My Own True Love (Lost At Sea)’ that sounds so melancholy it brings me to tears every time. This Portland, Oregon based quintet - Colin Meloy [songwriter/singer], Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Rachel Blumberg and Nate Query - really is so individualistic we are hard pressed to find comparisons. At times it recalls The Beatles at its most orchestrated - check ‘16 Military Wives’, then Nick Cave at his most acoustic [‘We Both Go Down Together’] or the magnum opus that is ‘The Mariner’s Revenge Song’ at 8 minutes and 42 seconds!

The members are dressed and made-up like no-one around: they are players in a musical theatre. The Decemberists’ third album [follow-up to ‘Her Majesty’ and last year’s mini LP ‘The Tain’] is like an open season in a fantasy land and you simply get captured into its headlights…

‘Picaresque’ rightly refers to strange adventures populated by rogues. Peculiar and wonderful, to put it succinctly.


The Decemberists’ album 'Picaresque' is released 08 August 2005 by Rough Trade