The Decemberists 

Her Majesty

For those who find the undergraduate fictional sketches of Belle & Sebastian too precious or Neutral Milk Hotel's stream-of-consciousness descriptions too rambling, there exist the Decemberists. The Northwestern group serves up hearty literary pop by the bale. Augmented by liberal doses of strings, organs, and accordions, the songs are brightly colored and given over to subject matter concerning Chinese acrobats, gymnasts, soldiers, legionnaires, prostitutes, and orphans. It's like Charles Dickens via Herman Melville via the Smiths.

Colin Meloy provides the voice as well as the songs themselves, and his distinct and lucid narration can ply you into either a fictional dream state or -- through his plaintive wail -- something more therapeutic. He sounds a bit like Jeremy Enigk did on his baroque Christian outing, The Return of the Frog Queen. If you want to keep reaching for comparisons, then try XTC's Skylarking, but once again, with a penchant for accordions. Also, if you have spent any considerable time at sea, are indeed a pirate, or have ever used the word "boyo" in common conversation, you might find a kinship with the Decemberists' blatant friendship with the sea shanty.

Her Majesty is the band's second record, and it carries the same sort of Brit-lit-soaked promise heard on their 2002 debut. In fact, where the debut occasionally creaked under the weight of its own thick baroque instrumentation, this record seems able to find the happy medium where story-songs and a wide array of musical instruments can coexist without sounding like Poi Dog Pondering. In fact, it flips from whimsical Anglophiles to old-world market Gypsies and back again with nary a blink of the eye. Her Majesty exists as a dedication to a singular (and often nautical) vision, something even the swarthiest of all sea dogs cannot discount.


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