For a band that made their mark in part with a seafaring revenge epic told from inside the belly of a whale, the Decemberists have managed to carve out an enduring and eclectic career. Not bad for what began as a devout following of bookworms and theater-types.

When the Decemberists debuted with their 5 Songs EP in 2001 and the full-length Castaways and Cutouts the following year, frontman Colin Meloy attracted erudite, verbose fans suited to his erudite, verbose narrative-songs. With a creative writing degree in tow, Meloy soon became synonymous with his off-kilter and sepia-hued storytelling and penchant for ‘60s British folk and R.E.M. His nasally cadence even, for some, promised a Neutral Milk Hotel stand-in that you might actually hear more than two albums from and one day see live.

Since those early offerings, the Portland folk-rockers have maintained their original conceit while taking it in directions as adventurous and far-reaching as the stories Meloy spins in song – twangy prog-rock, straightforward country-pop and a full-fledged rock opera. Meloy’s muse has produced a collection of seven solid LPs that are all distinctly Decemberists while offering shades on a theme – both in sound and the actual themes that arise in Meloy’s tales. In the gallery above, we rank each of those albums – and the cast of characters that populate them – from Worst to First.

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