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Picaresque Import


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Product Details

  • Audio CD (May 1 2009)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Import
  • Label: FAB
  • ASIN: B0007M22S4
  • In-Print Editions: Audio CD  |  LP Record
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

1. The Infanta
2. We Both Go Down Together
3. Eli, The Barrow Boy
4. The Sporting Life
5. The Bagman's Gambit
6. From My Own True Love (Lost At Sea)
7. Sixteen Military Wives
8. The Engine Driver
9. On The Bus Mall
10. The Mariner's Revenge Song
11. Of Angels And Angles

Product Description

Product Description

In the past two years, The Decemberists have gone from unknowns outside their native Portland to success via critical praise, impressive sales, and packed houses. Produced by Chris Walla (Death Cab For Cutie) in a Portland church that was also being used as a daycare center, with 'Picaresque' The Decemberists have recorded their fullest sounding release yet, all ambitions fulfilled. Kill Rock Stars. 2005.

Amazon.ca

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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Most helpful customer reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on March 23 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C. Quinn on Jan. 19 2006
Format: Audio CD
I heard the Decemberists for the first time on Morning Becomes Ecletic. Serendiptous moment, I was browsing cds at the local music store, so immediately tracked them down. This band is reminiscent of all the good folk music of the 70's. Great narrative verse, with incredible hooks. Buy, buy, buy.
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By A Customer on Feb. 19 2006
Format: Audio CD
Picaresque is an album that doesn't seem to fit into the mainstream. Yes, they have beautiful story lines, but instead of love songs and moans about the state of this world, The Decemberists tell a story that is entertaining - a world of pirates and engine drivers. The vocals a great and I can't help picturing this band on a ship somewhere bleating out these songs with wooden legs and eye patches, aye matey!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 112 reviews
59 of 66 people found the following review helpful
Picturesque "Picaresque" May 3 2005
By E. A Solinas - Published on Amazon.com
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. 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.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Best Decemberists Yet Aug. 6 2005
By Sair K - Published on Amazon.com
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. I think I've finally got my finger on it.

First, most Decemberists songs are instrumentally thick. The addition of keyboards and accordion to most songs adds unique dimensions, especially the accordion whose sound is lacking in most other modern pop-rock bands. Secondly, lyrics show evidence that Colin Maloy, the bands frontman and songwriter, clearly scored really high on his SAT Verbal portion. The language is reminiscent of late 19th fiction and poetry with lines like "Below the tamaracks he is crying, 'Corncobs and candlewax for buying!" This romantic language populates even the "modern" themes. For example, the espionage themed romance The Bagman's Gambit includes, "And for a tryst in the greenry I gave you documents and microfilm too."

What this album does best is supplant these poetic versus of wayfairing sailors, child kings, forbidden lovers, academics, and athletic failures on top of poppy tunes that make you want to keep listening, even if you have no idea what "Picaresque" means. It is able to be unpretentious; it is intellectual while at the same time completely accessible.

And it's a darn catchy album.

(By the way, I had no idea what picaresque meant either, so I looked it up)

pic·a·resque

adj.

1. Of or involving clever rogues or adventurers.

2. Of or relating to a genre of usually satiric prose fiction originating in Spain and depicting in realistic, often humorous detail the adventures of a roguish hero of low social degree living by his or her wits in a corrupt society.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Oops!Looks like you forgot to fill in a required form field. April 10 2005
By -> - Published on Amazon.com
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. "The Sporting Life" takes a jumpy, punchy beat to the story of a failed athlete, fallen to the ground, looking at his coach, father, and girlfriend as they express, quite clearly, their disappointment. "The Bagman's Gambit" is all cloak and dagger murder mystery romance, the object of his affection a spy working against the government. It begins simply enough, with nothing but acoustic guitar, but grows and grows to a ravishing crescendo.

"16 Military Wives" is similar in style to "Sporting Life," but is the most political song by the band, with Meloy taking it to the military, celebrities, academia, and everything else involved with the hypocrisy of war (the "anchor person on TV goes La di da di da duh diddy diddy dah").

Perhaps his most interesting and comical yarn this time is the "Bus Mall," a sensitive tale of young runaway male prostitutes, laughing off "quick tricks" and "pocket[ing] pills away." As ever, Meloy brings a perspective to what would otherwise be derisive and mocking; one such boy leaves without leaving a note for his "grieving sweet mother/while your brother was so cruel."

The two best songs, however, are "We Both Go Down Together," a Romeo and Juliet-esque tragedy of forbidden and suicidal lovers, and "The Mariner's Revenge Song," a nine-minute tale of, well, a mariner enacting revenge. Play it back to back with "Shanty for the Arethusa" from Her Majesty the Decemberists, and you'll have the ultimate coupling of sea-faring epic montages. If you need a perfect introduction to the band or even the world of indie rock, start with this one.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Yet another solid album of story-driven music March 22 2005
By Zubin Madon - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
While expanding in many ways upon their previous releases, the Decemberists' third full-length album is guaranteed to please their fanbase. Once again, the band offers a collection of epic tales put to song, with various whimsical stories mixed in. From the beginning war-drum frenzy of "The Infanta", Picaresque promises novel work, yet throughout, it rings true to the Decemberists' unique style.

Colin Meloy's lyrics explore previously untapped areas including athelete culture in "The Sporting Life", a stern satire of America's view of itself in "16 Military Wives", and an interesting tale of espionage in "The Bagman's Gambit". Meloy also sticks to some of his favorite themes, notably in "The Mariner's Revenge Song".

The music is firmly grounded in the band's previous work, but explores a new pop feel at times, especially in "16 Military Wives", as well as adding an aura of excitement and urgency at times, very present in the opening track, "The Infanta". Still, some songs make use of the Decemberists' down-tempo near-drone style, showing just enough to keep your ears happy, while strongly emphasizing what is currently happening. This is best represented by "From My Own True Love (Lost At Sea)". Even jazzy elements find their way into the album via "The Sporting Life". As usual, the band makes good use of varying, often catchy rhythms over which to deliver their music and stories.

Overall, Picaresque is an excellent album, representing a broadening of The Decemberists' musical and lyrical scope. Its music, lyrics, and overall flow leave little to be desired. "16 Military Wives" is certain to gain the band new attention. Other initial highlights include "The Infanta", "We Both Go Down Together", and "The Engine Driver", but with the absense of any weak point, you'll find yourself listening through the whole album more often than not.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Almost inconceivably odd yet nonetheless addictive Aug. 12 2005
By Robert Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Who said that an alternative band couldn't be independent yet theatrical at the same time? The only bands that I know that combine the extremity of content found in the music of The Decemberists are either traditional folk songs or heavy metal or Jethro Tull. I mean, take these lyrics from the song that begins the album, "The Infanta":

A phalanx on camelback, thirty ranks

on her forward tack follow close,

their shiny bright standards a'waving.

While behind, in their coaching fours, ride the wives of the king of Moors

and the veiled young virgin, the prince's betrothed.

And we'll all come praise the infanta.

There are heavy metal songs that describe funeral processions for Viking or barbarian warriors of similar ornateness and theatricality, but nothing like this in the indie scene. Musically, they are less outside the mainstream, and often remind me of various bands and performers, in particular the Smiths. Many find resemblances between the Decemberists and Neutral Milk Hotel, but I have to admit to some trouble doing this. But even here they manage to combine elements in unique ways. "The Sporting Life," for instance, has the kind of morbid pathos and wallowing one finds in the Smiths' at their most self-indulgent, as the narrator lies prostrate on an athletic field, watching his disappointed and disapproving father and his girlfriend who walks off arm in arm with the captain of the winning team. Who would have thought of writing such an odd song? Indeed, most of their songs, while interesting, contain subject matter than makes it almost impossible for a listener to empathize with. How is one supposed to respond to "The Infanta?" Most of us feel, if anything, alienated by images of Imperial Spain.

It think the connection with Neutral Milk Hotel comes largely from two elements in the music: the difficulty in connection with the lyrics and the willingness to explore interesting and unusual combinations of instruments. If Neutral Milk Hotel sometimes employs a Theremin, The Decemberists do so far more often. In the end, what saves The Decemberists and makes this an exhilarating album is the sheer energy and enthusiasm in the music, which luckily is also exceedingly well performed and filled with nice hooks.

What does hurt the album is some inconsistency in the songwriting. While songs like "The Infanta" and "From My Own True Love (Lost at Sea" (the latter reminding me of several of the quieter themes found in Ennio Morricone scores for Sergio Leone) are unquestionably very strong songs, there are a few, like "The Bagman's Gambit" or "On the Bus Mall" leave a lot to be desired. Other highlights include "16 Military Wives," complete with rousing horn arrangements, the lovely "The Engine Driver" (another cut that reminds me of The Smiths), and the superb "The Mariner's Revenge Song," one of the cuts that reinforce the image of The Decemberists being obsessed with seafaring imagery.

This is not an album for everyone. Some are going to find its subject matter a little too mannered and posturing for their taste. Myself, I've never minded a bit of the over-the-top. Others who are likeminded might also find this a lot of fun.


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