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116 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The Decemberists know that the psychology of a culture at war is complex; that historical archetypes can inform the masses on current events far better than the evening news; and, perhaps most importantly, that life is ultimately a spectacular and colorful pageant. They remind us that, on any given day, we might rub shoulders with rogue spies and runaway prostitutes, child monarchs and vengeful mariners, boy ghosts, couples contemplating suicide, cannibals and drowning angels. This existence is indeed a spectacle to be revered.

In August of 2004, Rachel Blumberg, Jenny Conlee, Chris Funk, Colin Meloy, and Nate Query set up shop at a former Baptist church in Portland, Oregon. With co-producer Chris Walla at the controls, the five musicians collectively known as The Decemberists emerged three weeks later with the bulk of the work completed for Picaresque (Kill Rock Stars - March 22, 2005), their most ambitious and realized effort to date.

Picaresque is yet more proof that the Decemberists' Colin Meloy is the songwriter who loves love—especially when it ends in death, ("We Both Go Down Together," "Of Angels and Angles"), disease ("The Mariner's Revenge Song") or in some other tragic way. This CD spends some time in the band's familiar old Europe setting, although Meloy also touches on politics, espionage, and even soccer. (Proving he knows his fan base, Meloy's "The Sporting Life," is the perfect shout-out to the kids who preferred the library to the gym.) Long-time fans will know what to expect from this album, which compares favorably to the other LPs on their catalog, and with Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla on board as producer, the band seems poised to reach the greater audience they deserve. If you're not already a listener, don't wait another second to become one. With their remarkable vocabulary and bawdy-yet-literary imagery, the Decemberists are guaranteed to make you smarter even as they make you weep. Pop this in your CD player, grab a dictionary, rock and learn.--Leah Weathersby

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Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.

Song Title Time Price
  1. The Infanta 5:07$0.99  Buy MP3 
  2. We Both Go Down Together 3:04$0.99  Buy MP3 
  3. Eli, The Barrow Boy 3:11$0.99  Buy MP3 
  4. The Sporting Life 4:38$0.99  Buy MP3 
  5. The Bagman's Gambit 7:02$0.99  Buy MP3 
  6. From My Own True Love (Lost At Sea) 3:42$0.99  Buy MP3 
  7. 16 Military Wives 4:52$0.99  Buy MP3 
  8. The Engine Driver 4:15$0.99  Buy MP3 
  9. On the Bus Mall 6:04$0.99  Buy MP3 
10. The Mariner's Revenge Song 8:45$0.99  Buy MP3 
11. Of Angels and Angles 2:27$0.99  Buy MP3 

Product Details

  • Audio CD (March 22, 2005)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Kill Rock Stars
  • ASIN: B0007M22S4
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,290 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 66 people found the following review helpful By EA Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 3, 2005
Format: Audio CD
The obscure word "Picaresque" is an accurate title for the third full-length album by the Decemberists. If you want to get technical, the word refers to humorous adventure stories, starring roguish antiheroes. Considering the folky pirate sound of the Decemberists' latest -- and best -- album, this seems an appropriate title.

Not that folky-pirate is a NEW sound for them; it's characterized their past music, except for the richly mythic "Tain EP." But the Decemberists amp up their instruments in "Picaresque," making the melodies bigger and louder than before. A few songs like "Espionage" harken back to their previous stripped-down sound, with mainly Colin Meloy and his acoustic guitar. But these are actually the minority here.

From the very first song, the pulse-racing percussive "Infanta," it becomes clear that the Decemberists haven't changed their sound so much as made it faster and louder. Which, it seems, was just the punch that the Decemberists needed in their prior albums, taking their music from good to really, really good. With this amped-up sound, their music seems larger than life.

The songs are also more eclectic than in prior albums, dabbling in accordion sea shantys, bouncy classic-pop, percussive rock, and mild acoustic ballads. The music still centers on Colin Meloy's acoustic guitar, and the lyrics have a feeling of old-world grandeur, sepia photos and dusty literarature. But it's also getting a bit more complex, with strings, drums and accordion often taking center stage.

And the Decemberists get to expand their songs to topics other than, er, acrobats, ships and so forth.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Sair K on August 6, 2005
Format: Audio CD
Since buying Picaresque about 2 weeks ago, I think I've listened to the entire album at least 10 times. I think this is the most times I have listened to a single album in its entirety in the last 18 months.

What has compelled me to keep playing Picaresque? At the most basic level, its just a darn catchy album. But there are lots of catchy albums that I'm not listening to all the time. What makes Picaresque more than just a catchy album is that the poppy tunes are layered over rich lyrics and intricate story lines. The Decemberists are known for their theatrically-minded songs often revolving around maritime, sea-faring, Victorian European-esque themes. Picaresque also maintains this theme (especially in The Mariner's Revenge Song, which is one of my favorites on the album). However, as has been noted in most reviews of this album, Picaresque deals with a number of modern themes, particularly (as most everyone who has heard the album has noted) Sixteen Military Wives, clearly an anti-war protest song. However, despite tackling more modern themes, the album maintains its sound.

I've always felt the Decemberists were sort of old-worldy in a hip rock and roll sort of way. I think I had this impression before I saw them live on New Year's Eve 2003, all decked out in 1920's style tuxedos and dresses (the drummer and keyboardist/accordionist are both female) with their bassist playing a stand-up bass rather than a rock and roll electric bass. However, in listening to past Decemberists albums I've had a hard time putting my finger on the definitive aspect of their sound that gives them this "old-worldy" feel. Obviously the subject matter of many of their songs drives this impression, but I was struck that even when singing about "modern themes" they maintained this sound.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By -> on April 10, 2005
Format: Audio CD
The Decemberists- "Picaresque"

Corey Fry/ Music Review

Perhaps if they weren't so darn theatrical, they'd be the next R.E.M. or something (and singer Colin Meloy pulls his best Michael Stipe in a couple of new songs), but they simply must reinforce the campy elements of their persona like a smiling clown with a painted frown. Heck, the only time the past two weeks anyone has bothered to call my radio show was when I played "The Sporting Life" or "We Both Go Down Together," two of the marvelous tracks from the equally stupendous album, wanting to know who was that band.

The Decemberists thrive on simple melody, intriguing, beguiling tales of periodical costume dramas, and more high end vocab words than you can shake a thesaurus at-Meloy is the best thing to happen to dictionary salesmen since tomato was spelled with an "e." The secret weapon is still the accordion, a highly useful, extremely practical instrument that is possibly the most underrated instrument out there (if there is such a thing).

They kick things off with a sort of "coming to Africa" tale about an infant princess (or more accurately, as the song is titled, an "Infanta") being paraded about on elephants through crowds of worshipers as she dreams of "quiet streams." A high horn calls attention, immediately followed by locomotion-like attack drums before Meloy breaks in with his clean, fey proclamation: "here she comes!"

Curiously, they take us back home on this album, with the middle section set of songs- "The Sporting Life," "The Bagman's Gambit," "16 Military Wives," and "On the Bus Mall"- reading like a broad swath of various contemporary American issues.
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