The Crane Wife

In the lyrically impaired alt-rock world, Colin Meloy is lionized for his literary prowess because his reading predates Bret Easton Ellis and he knows what "picaresque" means. That was the title of the Decemberists' 2005 Kill Rock Stars album, which came complete with such arcana as a barrow boy, an infanta and a veranda. Supposedly inspired by the Japanese tale of the same name, The Crane Wife makes no concessions to its major label, unless engineering counts. Among its ten tracks are two song cycles that exceed ten minutes; among its topics are a Civil War romance, meat-cleaver murderers and a damsel dispatched with saber and pistol.