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on 31 August 2005
This was a spur of the moment buy, based on a Guardian review - not always a reliable source but it sounded intriguing. What a lucky choice! These aren't just songs, these are a collection of wonderful, sometimes surreal, stories plucked from goodness knows where by the mind of writer Colin Maloy. It reminds me of the old English folk tradition of recounting tales of derring do and woe in equal measure. 'This Sporting life' tells of one man's embarrassment at a 'Charlie Brown' moment on the playing field (been there myself),' The Mariner's Revenge Song' is a haunting tale of a son given to seeking out the man responsible for his mother's death and eventually finding themselves together in the belly of a whale - all set to a rousing sea shanty song, complete with accordian. Entrancing stuff! Almost every track is a gem - it's the sort of album where you find yourself singing the songs long after you've switched the player off. Almost every song/story is a gem. Oh, just buy it -it's fab!!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 August 2005
don't suppose this is for everyone, so individual and original are The Decemberists (folk-pop-indie-rock?), but, my god, do I love it myself. I don't really know what to say about it. Great melodies, great stories in the words, a haunting voice. It's got everything. It swells and crashes like storm-bred waves; it's folk yet its indie-rock; it's the most atmospheric music I've heard in years. I could listen to it for hours and hours. I do. I've not heard anything like it before.
This is certainly my favourite of their releases so far. They get better and better. Highlights include "The Engine Driver" (a lovely lament), "A Cautionary Song" (bawdy and sad), "We Both Go Down Together" (moving, tragic) and "The Mariner's Revenge Song" (a true sea-going epic!) Oh, and watch out for the sombre and solemn "Eli, the Barrow Boy" - it might lead to a little tear or two. Actually, there are so many great tracks here, almost all of them are special.
I can't guarantee that you'll like this but, well, you should; it's superb stuff. Music just as it should be. Have a listen to The Engine Driver (available at various places online) and if you like then go straight out and GET THIS ALBUM. You won't regret it. I'm making all my friends listen to them now.
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on 31 August 2009
Now, this may seem a little over the top but I think they jolly well have! They have turned me into one of those people who only like to listen to the same one or two bands ALL the time, despite the fact that their favourite bands are many.
'Picaresque' is only the second Decemberists album in my possession (The first being 'The Hazards Of Love' which I must listen to at least once a day), and it is a sheer joy from beginning to end. My personal favourite has to be 'We both go down together' which picks up Mr Meloy's recurrent theme of drowning/suicide pact inducing, all consuming love.
I really struggle to explain to people who ask 'what music do you like', but that is the benefit of only listening to two bands. You don't have to describe it 'Belle and Sebastian and The Decemberists' is my reply and with a puff of smoke , I am gone and they have not got a clue what I am on about.
So in conclusion, but this one and that one and any other one there is and give your brain a treat!
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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. For example, they delicate step into anti-war turf with "Sixteen Military Wives," as well as a charming little ditty about a kid having athletic problems: "And father had had such hopes/for a son who would take the ropes/and fulfill all his old athletic aspirations/but apparently now there's some complications..."
One of the quibbles I always had with the Decemberists was Colin Meloy's voice -- it's nasal and a bit thin, a bit reminiscent of Jeff Mangum. But somewhere between this and their prior EP, Meloy has learned how to rein in his vocals. He's not great, but he's definitely improved. In fact, he increasingly reminds me of Jeff Mangum or Kevin Barnes, two imperfect voices that fit in with their music regardless.
"Picaresque" is hampered by a couple of somber acoustic numbers, but the newer, faster sound suits this band wonderfully. "Picaresque" is definitely picturesque.
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on 2 September 2005
(1) Buy any album by the Decemberists.
(2) Give it away to a friend, because it's so good you want to share it.
(3) Repeat.
I feel like it's Groundhog Day.
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on 9 July 2007
Colin Meloy is an excellent songwriter. "Picaresque" is extremely varied and a very entertaining album which reveals more of itself with every listen. There's the anthemic opener "The Infanta", and the radio-friendly "We Both Go Down Together", who's opening string section is great. Two very dark but brilliant tracks are "Eli The Barrow Boy" and "From My Own True Love". "Engine Driver" is another well-balanced number which wouldn't be a million miles from home on a more subdued Weezer album, and the piano in the background works to great effect. "On The Bus Mall" is an infectious, dreamy work of art, too.

Needless to say, it is worth buying this album just for the phenomenal "The Mariner's Revenge Song", which tells the story of a man who's mother's tearaway husband leaves her in debt. Her dying words are basically "avenge me and kill him", so the man sets out looking for him and the song tells the story of his life and the fateful confrontation with the said tearaway after being swallowed by a whale. Think Moby Dick takes on Pinocchio takes on pirates. At almost nine minutes it's an excellent fantasy epic which deserves all the attention it gets. It's also the best use of an accordion (if there is actually one used- a damn good impersonation if there isn't) I can think of.

A couple of tracks seem a little flat, and "The Sporting Line", for example, is possibly a little repetitive, but this record should be part of any real indie fan's collection. Highly recommended.
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on 29 December 2005
I would recommend this album to anyone who is looking for something a little different. The Decemberists have achieved a method of song writting that gives songs an obvious plot,a slight victorian twang on the most part and still keeps them catchy. If you are still not sure I would recommend that you listen to 'Down together', 'Eli the Barrowboy', the recent single '16 Military Wives' and 'Engine Driver as these are but a few of the songs that I have found enlightening. Honestly this album has been playing on my mp3 for at least a month and I still think its great. I can't give any obvious comparisons on this on because there aren't any.
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I don't suppose this is for everyone, so individual and original are The Decemberists (folk-pop-indie-rock?), but, my god, do I love it myself. I don't really know what to say about it. Great melodies, great stories in the words, a haunting voice. It's got everything. It swells and crashes like storm-bred waves; it's folk yet its indie-rock; it's the most atmospheric music I've heard in years. I could listen to it for hours and hours. I do. I've not heard anything like it before.
This is certainly my favourite of their releases so far. They get better and better. Highlights include "The Engine Driver" (a lovely lament), "A Cautionary Song" (bawdy and sad), "We Both Go Down Together" (moving, tragic) and "The Mariner's Revenge Song" (a true sea-going epic!) Oh, and watch out for the sombre and solemn "Eli, the Barrow Boy" - it might lead to a little tear or two. Actually, there are so many great tracks here, almost all of them are special.
I can't guarantee that you'll like this but, well, you should; it's superb stuff. Music just as it should be. Have a listen to The Engine Driver (available at various places online) and if you like then go straight out and GET THIS ALBUM. You won't regret it. I'm making all my friends listen to them now.
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on 19 July 2012
I think Picaresque and the following Crane Wife are where The Decemberists are really at their heighest points of greatness. Picaresque takes the bleakness that dominated the excellent Castaways and Cutouts and the more upbeat sounds of Her Majesty and melds them into a really great album.

It opens with the Italian spiced, Infanta, which contains a great description of the royals as the celebrate the Infanta on her birthday. It is followed by the beautiful ballad, We Both Go Down Together, where the lyrics soar and the violin really adds a sense of beautiful urgency to this track. It is followed by a folkish, simpler but equally powerful ballad, Eli The Barrow Boy.

The Spoting Life is a little weaker than the opening three, but has a nice rythmic beat and anyone who fails at sports can really relate to it. We then return to the bleak despair found in The Bagman's Gambit, a wonderful Lament of a broken soul. I think it has an amazing story to it also. My Own True Love (Lost At Sea) is nice in its own way, but kind of forgettable, though I do like the plodding beat carried by the drums and gongs throughout and it acts as a nice break between Bagman's Gambit and 16 Military Wives, which is a song where both the music and vocals are really tight, creating a great and accessible listen.

The Engine Driver is the first Decemberists song that I heard and it is up there with the best of them. On The Bus Mall carries on the greatness of this band, but the real peak is The Mariner's Revenge Song, which features the best storyline on the album and a pounding mix of soft and hard music, infused by accordians, violins and several guitars to really add a dramatic effect. The album winds down with Of Angels and Angles, a nice release after its feriocious predessesor.

I think this is the best album by the band, or at least close, because it is not only commercially accessible, but it does not reject any of the old techniques used by the band, but only embraces and refines them. Lyrically, I think this is also the best as I think that the lyrics, while still strong in following albums, are never as greatly delivered as they are here.
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I'm a bit disappointed to be honest.

There are some good songs and I suppose it was worth it for "we both go down together" and "the mariners revenge song" alone but I guess I was expecting a great album.

It is a good album, quite good in fact and I guess it may be getting judged a bit harshly in comparasson to the other two CD's I got recently. They are great albums in their entirity.

"Picaresque" has it's moments but up against "Diamond Eyes - Deftones" and "Friday Night Lights - Explosions In The Sky" I guess any band would have trouble standing out.

Overall a good purchase though and I would recommend it but don't believe the hype.
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