Album: The Decemberists <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

Picaresque, ROUGH TRADE
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The Independent Culture

It's always a good sign when pop rejects the big city for more intimate surroundings. Portland, Oregon has one of the more thriving provincial rock scenes in America, with the likes of The Shins, Viva Voce and The Decemberists contributing to a local groundswell of talent. If the Portland bands have a defining characteristic, it's their stubborn individuality in the face of growing mainstream homogeneity. In the case of The Decemberists, that entails taking the intricate story-songs of Colin Meloy and subjecting them to arrangements built around a bullish form of folk-music, with mandolin, concertina, hurdy-gurdy and smatterings of strings and brass augmenting the acoustic guitars, everything driven along urgently by idiosyncratic percussive flourishes which emphasise the songs' dramatic aspects. In places, it resembles The Tiger Lilys, only without the squeaky voice; in others, The Hidden Cameras, only without the songs about enemas. Instead, Meloy sketches vivid tableaux of street kids, romantic espionage tales, accounts of youthful sporting humiliation, dogged revenge dramas and laments for lost loves and shipwrecked seafarers, set in locales ranging from labour camps to the Eastern potentate's court of "The Infanta". An odd bohemian curio, then, with an outside chance of a novelty hit in the catchy "Military Wives".