Release Date: Nov 1, 2011
Record label: Capitol
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
On this six track EP, the Decemberists stick to the sound that made this year's The King Is Dead so tasty, leaning into rustic Americana like they're settling into an old chair. They recast the Grateful Dead's "Row Jimmy" as bourbon-bleary blues, and "I 4 U & U 4 Me" chugs along confidently. In the campfire-folk murder ballad "E. Watson," the protagonist is buried facedown with "a good view into hell." Bright arrangements, apparently, don't mean brighter moods.
With The Decemberists, it’s s safe bet that somewhere between the post-Brit-folk of Fairport Convention and Morrissey’s darkness, leader Colin Meloy will emerge with a collection of impossibly literate tales that embrace death, consider love’s perils and offer up a swirling pastiche of indie rock. Emotionally complex and lyrical seems the rule in a musicality that’s straightforward as it can be. And Long Live The King, a six-song EP culled from songs recorded during the country-tinged The King Is Dead sessions, fits the template.
Review Summary: A continued expedition into the folk depths and country sway of new age Americana…Those who embraced The King is Dead for its departure from The Decemberists’ normally prog-driven sound will be given one more treat before the end of 2011. Once again delving into Americana, The Decemberists offer us the best cuts from the excluded The King Is Dead tracks along with a cover of The Grateful Dead’s ‘Row Jimmy. ’ From the serene, compassionate ‘Foregone’ to the groovy ‘Sonnet’, the five piece indie band’s latest effort touches on everything that made The King is Dead such a welcome change.
Colin Meloy can read. This fact should surprise no one who has heard the Decemberists, or who has only so much as read one of their press clippings, nearly all of which seem bound, as if by secret contract, to make mention of the music as "literate. " It's shorthand, of course, for Meloy's tendency towards narrative and metaphor and occasionally inscrutable vocabulary-- a way for writers to telegraph his interest in words without indulging in much of the same.
The Decemberists have been a confounding group to follow. The band's approach is all over the place -- the Brit-folk leanings of early records led to the prog of The Tain and the expansive The Crane Wife, which led to the flawed-but-better-than-you-think rock opera The Hazards of Love -- but their records deliver the goods with remarkable consistency. This is the rare band that joined a major label and somehow got weirder, more ambitious, and -- even when they stumble -- more interesting.
The Decemberists’ Long Live the King EP comes along roughly 10 months after its last album, The King Is Dead. As you can surmise from the title, the six songs included here are all outtakes and B-sides from the The King Is Dead recording sessions. This is the sort of release that can be really appealing to a band’s biggest fans, the completists who want absolutely everything a group puts out.
The Decemberists' last album, The King is Dead, was a deliberately ramshackle affair. Inspired by Peter Buck's mandolin and Gillian Welch's off-key harmonizing, the nasal-voiced, hyper-literate Colin Meloy and his band of merry noisemakers stripped their prog-leaning sound way back to an Americana core. The words were still thesaurus-friendly, if slightly less intimidating, but the music itself went out of its way to sound "rootsy," littered with banjos and steel guitars.
Long Live the King, a six-track EP recorded around the same time as the R.E.M.-inspired King Is Dead, opens with “E. Watson,” a spare, moody tale of a sugar cane plantation owner named Edgar Watson, which couldn’t be further from the sunny rural folk jamboree glow that permeated the band's 2011 full-length. That said, the rest of the EP, outside of the brooding “Burying Davy,” leans closer to that countrified feel, and while it may come off a little contrived at times (Colin Meloy's nasally, faux-British croon stands out like vegan pork gravy on a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Row Jimmy”), these outtakes will no doubt help to satiate fans until the group reconvenes for album number seven.
Comprised of five outtakes from the sessions of this year’s The King is Dead and a Grateful Dead cover, Long Live the King, the latest from The Decemberists, catches the band in the midst of their jaunt through the woodsy Americana on which they’ve ridden to the biggest year of their career. Scaling back the theatrics of The Crane Wife and The Hazards of Love may have been the best career move Colin Meloy & Co. have yet made, considering the record’s debut atop the Billboard 200 charts and the success of the ensuing tour.
The track list for Long Live The King, the latest EP from hyper-literate indie-folk vets the Decemberists, calls to mind the band’s last series of short-form studio releases—2008’s vinyl- and download-only Always The Bridesmaid singles series, a batch of principally traditional Decemberistian pop tunes cut during the sessions for 2009’s The Hazards Of Love but deemed useless to that record’s tightly woven program of vignettes about forest monsters and murderous rakes. Both projects find five stray originals augmented by an unlikely cover—there, a haphazard Velvet Underground tune featuring a rare lead vocal from keyboardist Jenny Conlee; here, a slice of vintage Grateful Dead (“Row Jimmy”) in which recovering Dead-hater Colin Meloy supplies his now-unmistakable tics to his Dead-loving band mates’ impressively faithful replication of Garcia & Co. ’s original, from 1973’s Wake Of The Flood.