Portland's Decemberists are not unlike Nick Cave's Bad Seeds, if that band was drained of all testosterone and fronted by Arnold Horshack from Welcome Back Kotter. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, although Colin Meloy's lisping, painstakingly enunciated vocals seem to be a sticking point for anti-Decemberists. Indeed, the band's reviews tend to split between worship of their verbose intelligence and rejection of their twee sensibility. To be fair, the band has shown steady development. The folky, at-times Belle and Sebastian-like sound of earlier CDs gave way to the near-prog of 2004's mini-rock opera The Tain and expands further on the recent Picaresque. Tunes like "The Infanta" and the dark, comic epic "Mariner's Revenge Song" bristle with sonic and lyrical power, which only gain drama and excitement in a live setting--"Mariner's", in particular, becomes a massive, crowd-wide sing-along where Meloy forces the audience to scream as if they're in the throes of death. Welcome back, Colin.