Aforementioned sound-alike Colin Meloy is a folky belter of the kind you might imagine in the role of Revolutionary War-era troubadour, and that's not only because the band's dressed up that way in its publicity photos. The effect is encouraged by in-character epic "Shanty for the Arethusa," haunting the album's beginning in a History Channel shipwreck-special kind of way. If that sounds self-conscious for a bunch of modern-day kids from Portland, Oregon, just wait for the seven-minute "I Was Meant for the Stage," which tumbles from a haggard ode to an old stage queen into mayhem in the orchestra pit. As if to compensate for the more overwrought numbers and quasi-historical ballads ("Chimbley Sweep" even includes sung dialogue), some of the Decemberists' songs more credibly pair familiar indie-rockisms (the melancholy of a mailroom job, the disgustingness of Los Angeles) with poppy keyboard backdrops fit for Rufus Wainwright or Belle and Sebastian. Acoustic guitar makes way for bells, strings, horns and accordion, and here and there, schmaltzy '70s AM-radio flourishes add an ironic smirk to offset the endemic seriousness of Meloy's vocal. If upping the irony quotient pulls those theatrics into even more confusing territory, it's really the only barrier to enjoying this varied record. That is, if you haven't heard Neutral Milk Hotel.