The Decemberists 

Picaresque

You could argue that the Arcade Fire cashed the check the Decemberists have been writing since their debut in 2002. But why bother? It'll just end in a bloody fistfight and the destruction of way too many accordions. Picaresque finds the group playing up its faux-literary pop like the Dickensian-themed Max Fischer Players, but with greater skill. Each track offers up songwriter Colin Meloy's distinctly smart character sketches, pushed into life by the group's bright, sunlit, soul-drenched (on this outing, anyway) arrangements. This elaborate theater setup does push a bit of distance between the listener and Meloy, but it also pushes him into greater moments of creative lyricism (sample line: Among five-score pachyderm/All canopied and passenger'd/Sit the Duke and Duchess's luscious young girls. More songs about barons and baronesses? Yes, and a bit more than that.

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