There Are Powerlines in Our Bloodlines

Picaresque by The Decemberists

I was first familiarized with Colin Meloy's love of storytelling in middle school with Castaways And Cutouts. Though enjoyable, the album was largely overshadowed by "A Cautionary Song". Enjoyable and clever as Meloy's songwriting may be (and as theatrically thrilling as the Decemberists' music is), for the majority of my life I enjoyed the more humorous side of the Decemberists. Picaresque derives its name from a type of fiction that depicts the humorous adventures of a roguish hero who lives by his or her wits in a corrupt society, so my interest was definitely piqued.

True to the Spanish roots of the "picaresque", the album opens with the track "The Infanta" which narrates the coronation of a Spanish princess. Meloy immediately showcases his command of words, managing to use "palanquin", "pachyderm", "phalanx", "folderol" and "chaparral". Though Picaresque doesn't tell the story of a single roguish hero, it features several irresistible characters; in "The Bagman's Gambit" a government official narrates his love affair with a spy. "The Mariner's Revenge Song" is a 9 minute tale of, believe it or not, revenge at sea.

But storytelling aside, The Decemberists are easily just as capable of writing love songs, which they do in bounds. "We Both Go Down Together" details the relationship of star-crossed lovers, while "From My Own True Love (Lost at Sea)" uses the common "Mr. Postman, do you have a letter for me?". "The Engine Driver" is sweetly insecure, with Meloy finally telling his lover, "And if you don't love me, let me go". As if in a type of answer, "Of Angels and Angles" is a promise to go down together, singing "There's a tough word on your crossword/There's a bed bug nipping a finger/There's a swallow, there's a calm/Here's a hand to lay on your open palm today".


1 comment:

Clemente said...

that's what I'm talking about. nice one.