Back in 2003 I wrote that The Decemberists would be the band that everyone would have to watch out for. Now I have to be honest, back then I had only really listened to a few songs. After making this claim I listened to a few more songs on their albums and was shocked. They were good but not something I would watch for. They had some pretty amazing songs like “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect,” “Billy Liar,” “Red Right Ankle,” and “I Was Meant for the Stage.” But other songs were just OK. So I basically have been waiting for this moment: I am listening to the new Decemberists album called “Picaresque” and I am finally able to say, “I told you to look out for these guys!” “Picaresque,” which will be released on the Kill Rock Stars label March 22, is an early front-runner for best album of 2005. Basically, band leader Colin Meloy and his band of rapscallions take what worked in the last album and either tighten it up, make it louder, or make it just plain more amazing. The Decemberists take old-time sea shanties and make them into amazing indie rock songs. Just look at track three, “Eli, The Barrow Boy.” In the first verse we hear Colin sing, “Eli, the barrow boy / Of the old town / Sells coal and marigolds / And he cries out / All down the day.” That sounds like an opening for a 17th-century English ballad, not a song by a band that’s on a Seattle-based record label. “The Sporting Life” is a very poppy little ditty with trumpet that comes out of nowhere. And speaking of poppy, wait until you hear “Sixteen Military Wives,” with its organ and electric guitar as the backdrop to Colin singing, “Fifteen celebrity minds / Leading their fifteen sordid retched checkered lives / Will they find the solution in time / Using their fifteen pristine moderate liberal minds.” “The Engine Driver” is already a classic Decemberists track in my mind, with the lovely male/female vocals singing, “And I am a writer, writer of fictions / I am the heart that you call home.” With a line like that I just want to build my home inside this album and live there forever. And just when you thought the best was in the past, “On the Bus Mall” comes on and the constant floating lyrics drive over swelling organ and chugging percussion. The more I hear, the more I feel that they are starting to be THE band to watch for. Then there’s “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” a nearly nine minute mariner’s story ***********– complete with accordion *********– which makes these guys sound like they were born in a Samuel Coleridge poem. “Picaresque” closes with the lovely “Of Angels and Angles,” which hushes the album to sleep. After this track you see that this band has so many layers that one song cannot show the true nature of The Decemberists; you need to hear this entire album. Once you do, you will love them like I do.