Music Feature

Review: The Decemberists - 'The King Is Dead'

by Bill Chenevert
The Portlanders go from the coffee shop to the saloon
The+Decemberists
For ten years and five full studio albums, Colin Meloy and The Decemberists have produced some of the most beautiful, sometimes pretentiously-written, lyrics about fairy tales and epic love songs. The last time around, on Hazards of Love, the Portlanders created an overdone folk opera about a shapeshifting love monster, thus proving it's time for a shake up. This, their sixth record, The King Is Dead, finally marks a categorical change from the embellished storytelling characteristic of the band.

The first single off the record, “Down By the River,” was released a few months ago and guest stars Gillian Welch and R.E.M’s Peter Buck. The track is atypical of the band: up-tempo, tight, and a little country. Welch’s beautiful harmonies are featured on seven of the ten tracks, while Buck’s guitar is featured on two more songs: “Calamity Song” and “Don’t Carry It All.” The latter, the opening track, sets the tone like a spur and boot busting through a saloon door with wailing harmonicas and snapping snare drums. Add a Decemberists staple with the accordion (as well as a prominent harmonica), plus the occasional pedal steel and fiddle, and this record is genuine Americana. It's a true country-folk beauty.

It’s a new, yet still familiar sound for the band. Avid Decemberists fans don’t need to worry; Meloy didn’t forget to include plenty of big words. He manages to craft simplified love narratives like “Rise To Me” and “January Hymn.” These stories soundtrack a life fit for the ranch and mountain range. The simple and smooth arrangements have a radiance unlike any other Decemberists record and just may make The King Is Dead the most genial, touching record for the band yet. (Capitol)
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