Capitol raised a few eyebrows when they signed indie stalwarts the Decemberists. There's nothing blatantly commercial about the Portland quintet, from Colin Meloy's quavery voice and hyper-literate lyrics to the band's wide-ranging music, which encompasses baroque pop, prog rock, and dozens of other styles. Then again, he did once sing, "I was made for the stage," and those who've seen the group live know this to be true. Sure, they're storytellers, but they're entertainers, too--just not in the Top 40 sense. Never ones to play it safe, their major label debut takes its inspiration from a Japanese folk tale. It travels from the Replacements-style balladry of "The Crane Wife 3"--which joins words like "Each feather it fell from skin/'Til threadbare while she grew thin" to the melody from "Here Comes a Regular"--to the ELP hoedown of three-part epic "The Island" to the haunting duet between Meloy and Laura Veirs on "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)." It's an impressively eclectic effort that somehow manages to avoid sounding scattered. Co-produced by Chris Walla (Death Cab for Cutie) and Tucker Martine (the Long Winters), the Decemberists' fourth full-length is richer, less immediately catchy than its predecessor (there's nothing as bouncy here as Picaresque's "Sixteen Military Wives"). It's also a deeper work that resists snap judgments. Some records hit you over the head with their brilliance, others need time to percolate. Time will tell if The Crane Wife is the Decemberists' best album--it's certainly their most ambitious so far.