SLEATER-KINNEY'S TOMBSTONE has finally settled into the mud, both Modest Mouse and the Shins are MIA, and the Dandy Warhols are slipping into obscurity faster than one can say "Veronica Mars"—so is it too easy/soon to proclaim the Decemberists as Portland's favorite band? I think they are—Portland and the Decemberists think about each other all the time, and call each other when they go see movies at the Laurelhurst, and send each other cute text messages, and have those matching necklaces that're shaped like broken hearts, where one says "BE" and "FRI," while the other reads "ST" and "ENDS."

Which is kind of weird, because frankly—and don't turn on me, here—I thought the Decemberists would have burned out by now, faded from our memory, blurred into the same dusty ether as those pallid, whisper-voiced kids who did work study in the college library. C'mon—lit-flavored indierock, full of brainy fables and obscure words culled from thesauri, can only go so far, right?

But I underestimated frontman Colin Meloy's mad thesauri skillz, just as I undervalued the Decemberists' stalwart musical chops—their latest album, The Crane Wife, is arguably their strongest yet. It all coalesces on track two, "The Island: Come and See/The Landlord's Daughter/You'll Not Feel the Drowning," which spites its ludicrous title by shoehorning more awesomeness into 12 minutes than the band managed on all of last year's Picaresque. And then there's track five, "O Valencia!" a perfect pop song, which is followed by the great "The Perfect Crime No. 2," the growling "When the War Came," and the sweet "Summersong." And overall it's good, solid, and like the best sort of friend—familiar but unpredictable. Which makes me think we should hold onto our half of the necklace, at least for a little while.