Record Review 

When Colin Meloy describes his band's majestic, anachronistic yarns transposed into song, he calls them "picaresques." So rather than collect under a theme as on 2002's Castaways and Cutouts or put together a theatrical collage like 2003's Her Majesty, Meloy chose an album title that labels a spade a spade.

The tales in these tuneful short stories are the most diverse Meloy has offered yet. There's the marriage between a virgin Spanish duchess to a Moorish prince, the death of a boy who sold coal and flowers from his wheelbarrow, and a bus station prostitute remembering her lost partner-in-crime, among others. Meloy surrenders his near-choke hold on Victorian Europe and moves into more modern constructs for his backdrops.

While Meloy ventures into the 20th century, so too, does his band's sound, which is in part thanks to the mix of producer Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie. The other players once served merely as an able-bodied backing crew to Meloy's whimsical and nasal tenor, but now their accordions, horns, violins and even bass charge to the front lines. Rachel Blumberg's drums thunder when she simulates a gallop on the album opener, "The Infanta," and skitter-shuffle on the first single, "16 Military Wives." Even with all the changes, some standout tracks hark back to some Meloy's older work. The pain of unrequited love in "The Engine Driver" echoes the ghost story "Leslie Anne Levine" from Castaways and Cutouts. Oh, and the Jeff Mangum comparisons end here. After three albums, Meloy is in a league of his own.

The Decemberists perform Mon., May 9, at Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Ave. $12.50-$15. 8:30 p.m. 404-524-7354. www.variety-playhouse.com.

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