On Picaresque, The Decemberists gracefully dance between cultures, centuries, and sounds as Colin Meloy weaves stories together into an astute analysis of humanity—mostly at its lows. Opening with a triumphant, piano-pounding salute to a child monarch ("The Infanta"), the band then jump into modern times with the politically charged, trumpet-wailing "16 Military Wives." In between, a star-crossed tragedy gets adorned in mournful strings ("We Both Go Down Together") and the Belle and Sebastian-esque "The Sporting Life" takes the plaintive perspective of the underdog.

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