Music Feature

Review: The Decemberists - 'The King Is Dead'

by Bill Chenevert
The Portlanders go from the coffee shop to the saloon
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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