Picaresque (album)

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Studio album by
ReleasedMarch 22, 2005 (US)
RecordedAugust–September 2004
LabelKill Rock Stars
ProducerThe Decemberists, Chris Walla
The Decemberists chronology
The Tain
Singles from Picaresque
  1. "Sixteen Military Wives"
    Released: November 21, 2005

Picaresque is the third studio album from The Decemberists. It was released in 2005 on the Kill Rock Stars record label. The word "picaresque" refers to a form of satirical prose originating in Spain, depicting realistically and often humorously the adventures of a low-born, roguish hero living by their wits in a corrupt society.[2]


The album was recorded at the Prescott Church in northeast Portland, which the band rented for one month in the summer of 2004. To facilitate the creative process and avoid creative block, band members filled a used bike helmet with slips of paper listing strategies and ideas to try out. Non-traditional rock instruments used in the album's recording included an accordion and a hurdy-gurdy. The album was produced by Chris Walla, also the guitarist for the band Death Cab for Cutie.[3]


The album includes the track "Sixteen Military Wives", the music video of which was distributed by the band via BitTorrent.[4] A double vinyl version was released in the United States that contained the album on the first three sides with an EP of outtakes named Picaresqueties on the fourth side.[5] This EP was the band's final release for the Kill Rock Stars label. In Europe, a single-disc vinyl version was released on Rough Trade without the Picaresqueties EP; the first six tracks appear on Side A, and the final five are on Side B.[6]

A limited edition tenth anniversary pressing of the album on red vinyl was released for Record Store Day 2015. It was formatted as three sides, with the tracks from the Picaresqueties EP as the fourth side.

As of September 2006 it has sold 123,000 units in United States.[7]


Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Review scores
Alternative Press5/5[10]
Entertainment WeeklyA−[12]
The Guardian[13]
Houston Chronicle[14]
Rolling Stone[17]

Picaresque has a rating of 81/100 on Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim". The album reached number 5 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart, and number 128 on the Billboard 200.[19] Pitchfork placed Picaresque at number 143 on their list of top 200 albums of the 2000s.[20]

Track listing[edit]

All songs written by Colin Meloy.

1."The Infanta"5:08
2."We Both Go Down Together"3:04
3."Eli, the Barrow Boy"3:11
4."The Sporting Life"4:38
5."The Bagman's Gambit"7:02
6."From My Own True Love (Lost at Sea)"3:42
7."Sixteen Military Wives"4:53
8."The Engine Driver"4:15
9."On the Bus Mall"6:04
10."The Mariner's Revenge Song"8:46
11."Of Angels and Angles"2:28
Total length:53:07


The Decemberists

Additional musicians

  • Petra Haden – violin, backing vocals
  • Chris Walla – electric guitar
  • Paul Brainard – trumpet
  • Tom Hill – trombone
  • Joe Cunningham – saxophone
  • Aaron Stewart – tam-tam
  • Jeff London – shofar
  • Eric Stern – operatic tenor

Uses in media[edit]

The Mad Men episode "Maidenform" opened with a montage set to a segment of the song "The Infanta".[21]


  1. ^ Pitchfork Staff (October 2, 2009). "The 200 Best Albums of the 2000s". Pitchfork. Retrieved April 28, 2023. Nerdiest indie rock album of the decade? A case could certainly be made: the five-dollar words, the baroque instrumentation...
  2. ^ Picaresque
  3. ^ Nelson, Sean (March 17, 2005). "The Fabulist Sounds of the Pacific Northwest". The Stranger. Retrieved April 18, 2012.
  4. ^ Katie Dean (September 2, 2008). "Rockers Flex BitTorrent's Muscle". Wired.com. Retrieved April 18, 2012.
  5. ^ "Decemberists, The – Picaresque – Release Code: r525596". Discogs. September 2005. Retrieved April 5, 2015.
  6. ^ "Decemberists, The – Picaresque – Release Code: r2367122". Discogs. Retrieved April 5, 2015.
  7. ^ "Billboard". 2006-09-09.
  8. ^ "Reviews for Picaresque by The Decemberists". Metacritic. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  9. ^ Monger, James Christopher. "Picaresque – The Decemberists". AllMusic. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  10. ^ "The Decemberists: Picaresque". Alternative Press (201): 116. April 2005.
  11. ^ Powers, Ann (April 2005). "The Decemberists: Picaresque". Blender (35): 113. Archived from the original on November 30, 2005. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  12. ^ Small, Michael (March 25, 2005). "The Decemberists: Picaresque". Entertainment Weekly. No. 812. p. 71.
  13. ^ Peschek, Dave (August 5, 2005). "The Decemberists, Picaresque". The Guardian. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  14. ^ Dansby, Andrew (March 13, 2005). "'Picaresque' by The Decemberists". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved November 25, 2017.
  15. ^ "The Decemberists: Picaresque". NME: 50. July 23, 2005.
  16. ^ Deusner, Stephen M. (March 23, 2005). "The Decemberists: Picaresque". Pitchfork. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  17. ^ Fricke, David (March 24, 2005). "Picaresque". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  18. ^ Sinagra, Laura (April 2005). "The Decemberists: Picaresque". Spin. 21 (4): 101. Retrieved February 24, 2016.
  19. ^ "Picaresque - The Decemberists". Billboard.com. Retrieved April 18, 2012.
  20. ^ Pitchfork staff (September 28, 2009). "The Top 200 Albums of the 2000s: 200-151". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved October 1, 2009.
  21. ^ Lindsay Robertson (23 March 2005). "That Decemberists Montage from Mad Men Everyone's Talking About". Videogum. Buzzmedia Entertainment. Retrieved April 18, 2012.

External links[edit]