By Joel Smith and Leah Sottile

The Decemberists

Picaresque *****

The Decemberists have more fun singing about death than any other indie act. It certainly seems that way on Picaresque, the Portland-based quintet's third full-length release (due out March 22).

Building on the national success of their idiosyncratic 2003 release, Her Majesty, the Decembrists now sound sharper, crisper, tighter -- but also darker, weirder and less relenting.

Front man Colin Meloy, a Missoula native, has crafted another lyrical universe filled with spies, concubines and roustabouts. But this time his tales are largely set in a minor key, and most of his characters -- Eli the Barrow Boy, the two paramours in "We Both Go Down Together," the female narrator's object of desire in "True Love (Lost at Sea)" -- are haunted by death.

That seems to be the way the Decemberists like it. Their morbidness reaches its nadir in "The Mariner's Revenge Song," a roiling, almost Homeric sea shanty that walks the line between comical and chilling.

There are a couple of upbeat singles here, too -- like the uber-poppy "16 Military Wives" and the highly danceable "The Sporting Life" -- but Picaresque, like any journey, is not for the faint of heart. -- Joel Smith

The Brian Jonestown Massacre

Tepid Peppermint Wonderland: A Retrospective ****

I live and breathe the Dandy Warhols -- just about anyone who knows me, reads me or bumps into me on the street knows that. And while few people know who the Dandys are, even fewer know the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Dear readers: Meet the Massacre.

While the sounds and styles of the Warhols and Massacre are similar, the members of the Brian Jonestown Massacre are just better musicians. Because of that, they have achieved the sound that the Dandys were always searching for. This band cleverly acknowledges the past -- reinterpreting but not regurgitating the genius of the Velvet Underground and the Rolling Stones, and cleverly punctuating the modern psychedelia with their encyclopedia of instruments. Theirs is a throwback to styles no one has had the guts to attempt. It's edgy, complex rock 'n' roll that Keith and Lou would dig. And Tepid Peppermint Wonderland is a 38-song review of the band's 10-year spin cycle. -- Leah Sottile

Publication date: 0310/05

Santa Express

Through Dec. 20
  • or

About The Author