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Decemberists, Okkervil River

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I imagine that Colin Meloy was once the sort of arty, trench-coated high schooler his classmates wanted to either seduce or cram into a locker. His Portland-based indie-pop combo, the DECEMBERISTS, inspires a similar ambivalence: Meloy's hyper-literary leanings often muck up an otherwise decent tune or engaging tale, and when he's at his cloying, old-world-romantic worst, he leaves me cold in the same way a lot of Elephant 6 acts did in the 90s. But there are some devastatingly great songs--the Decemberists have a rare knack for interweaving fantastic hooks with full-blooded characters. Like Randy Newman, Meloy prefers stories about tragic saints and charming rogues; the most vividly drawn tale on the Decemberists' new album, Picaresque (Kill Rock Stars), "The Sporting Life," imagines a paranoid and gravely injured athlete left on the playing field to contemplate his failings. The song's rhythm is ripped clean from "Lust for Life," though I doubt Iggy Pop would ever have come up with lyrics like "they condescend and fix on me a frown." --J. Niimi

OKKERVIL RIVER's new disc, Black Sheep Boy (Jagjaguwar), is a murky, evocative, and complex quasi-concept album that opens with a Tim Hardin cover (the title track) and settles in for a long ramble down a dirt road. Along the way, that road gets crappier and the forest gets darker. The band tries to keep busy with string-band skronk, power chords, and Tim Buckley-style hillbilly soul, but by the second-to-last song, "So Come Back, I Am Waiting," front man Will Sheff is facing his demons alone with an acoustic guitar. --Monica Kendrick

Okkervil River opens; the Decemberists headline. Thu 4/7, 9 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203 or 312-559-1212, $15, 18+.

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