Release Date: Jan 18, 2011
Record label: Capitol
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Click to listen to The Decemberists' "Down By the Water" When a 12-and-a-half-minute murder ballad ("The Island," from 2006's The Crane Wife) stands as one of your more concise career high points, it's probably time to consider reining things in. That's just what the Decemberists — the Portland, Oregon, band known for its complex story-songs about fairy queens and shape-shifting lovers — have done on The King Is Dead. What's remarkable is how much richness and beauty the group has folded into the 40-minute album: The melodies are sticky, the harmonies sumptuous, the arrangements (centering on guitars, fiddle, accordion, harmonica and pedal steel) unfussy.
Stripped of both mythology and prog-rock, Oregonians shine. The Decemberists’ medieval rock opera The Hazards of Love pitted the band’s die-hard supporters against those with little tolerance for Elizabethan syntax and folk-metal guitars. Released two years later, The King is Dead is a tuneful concession to the latter group. Most of the frills and festoons have been trimmed from the Decemberists’ sound, leaving behind a lean, rootsy mix of Americana and Celtic-flavored folk songs that recall the work of Colin Meloy’s college band, Tarkio.
You could make a convincing case for The Decemberists being the most consistent band of the 21st Century so far. The King Is Dead is their sixth full-length LP, the latest in a run of uninterrupted quality which began with Castaways and Cutouts in 2002. Over the course of their career, they’ve seemed more than content to plough their own furrow in the margins, slowly accumulating fans and sales through word of mouth and good, old-fashioned first-rate songwriting.
Let’s face it: The Hazards of Love (2009) was not a very good record. Ambitious, yes. Well-orchestrated, sure. Especially pleasing to a certain older, All Songs Considered set, definitely. The album, however, proved sorely lacking in one of the key ingredients of the Decemberists’ winning ….
After five increasingly ambitious and intricate albums, concluding with 2009's prog-folk-rock opera The Hazards of Love, the Decemberists have gone back to their beginnings for The King Is Dead, with leader Colin Meloy forsaking epic storytelling for taut, disciplined, melodic guitar pop. The influence of REM is apparent throughout in arpeggiated guitar figures written in the style of Peter Buck, and often played by him – Calamity Song and Down By the Water, in particular, sound like the Georgia band at their top-notch best. It's no retreat, though: the confident swing of opener Don't Carry It All sets the tone for the album, and song for song, this is certainly Meloy's best set since the Decemberists' breakthrough album, Picaresque.
The Decemberists‘ 2009 rock opera, The Hazards Of Love, pushed frontman Colin Meloy’s verbose storytelling to its peak, a complex, sylvan fanta-tragedy that polarized fans, causing many to hail it as a conceptual masterpiece and others to disown it as bloated RPG-inspired tripe. Despite the differing opinions, everyone wondered where Portland’s antiquated yarn-spinners would go next. Getting more epic would be damn near impossible and returning to a lighter album of whimsically twisted potboilers would be backpedaling.
In these turbulent times, at the start of a new decade surrounded by a maelstrom of dodgy finance, environmental chaos and war, it is a comforting thought that at least The Decemberists will be their same old charming selves, a rock to hold on to. Or will they? While The King is Dead does not see Colin Meloy & co. make any seismic genre shift from their previous work, it is nevertheless a different creature to the 19th century English folk-tinged music upon which they have built their name.
To the Decemberists’s credit, they’re committed to the idea of challenging themselves, of taking their brand of bookish songwriting in different directions with each new album. While their last effort, 2009’s The Hazards of Love, was undermined by its needlessly complex mythology and ornate folk-rock arrangements, the band’s latest album impresses for its relative simplicity. The King Is Dead drops the Decemberists’s fussy, often overworked period-piece fetish and aims for the accessibility of American folk music.
It's possible to imagine The Decemberists' sixth album being met simultaneously with tearful "We've lost them for good" laments from diehard adherents to the band's Kill Rock Stars-era geek-rock eccentricities and enthusiastic "Come to papa" cries from the Americana/Triple-A contingent welcoming Colin Meloy and company to the fold. While The King Is Dead finds the former Band Most Likely To Be Called "Dickensian" channeling Neil Young and vintage R. E.
The Decemberists - The King Is Dead The Decemberists play Sound Academy Tuesday (February 1). See listing. Rating: NNN The concise arrangements and country rock tone of this album feel like a 180-degree turn from the sprawling, overly ambitious prog folk of the Decemberists' divisive last album, The Hazards Of Love. It's much more accessible, a fact that's been reflected in strong sales but also lukewarm reviews from fans of the band's more adventurous side.
They capture the stillness and melancholy of winter beautifully Well-crafted is the dullest of all compliments but with an album by The Decemberists it’s pretty much unavoidable. The way they put together their country-rock is rarely less than tasteful with some nice moments, like the sinuous guitar riff of ‘Calamity Song’. Only on ‘January Hymn’, though, where they capture the stillness and melancholy of winter beautifully, do you forget to check the joinery.
Even when Oregon’s [a]The Decemberists[/a] debuted with [b]‘Castaways And Cutouts’[/b] in 2002, they were still more Neutral Milk Bail Hostel than Hotel. They transposed wordy Victorian melodrama onto folky sea shanties. But at least once they had a snappy poetic sensibility and an admirable interest in history. Unfortunately, now they are pure turgid Americana pastiche.
Review Summary: It's not just the king that's lifelessThe Decemberists' last album The Hazards of Love was just another step down the path that the band had seemingly been walking down since their inception. Sure, for those not paying attention the hints of Black Sabbath influence was a bit alarming, but for those of us that remember their The Tain EP it was not only familiar, but encouraging. Sure, Colin Meloy and his compatriots have always been a folk band at heart, but it was their never being afraid to experiment and grow, be it the aforementioned classic metal intensity or the proggish grandiosity of The Crane Wife, that drove the band from bookish Neutral Milk Hotel clones to being one of the premier indie acts of the last decade.
Putting on The King Is Dead, the new album by The Decemberists, is like walking into your favorite bar on a Tuesday evening and discovering that the management has decided to make it Irish night. And not even green Budweiser and shamrock-bikini barmaid night — where a seat at the bar or a bad play on the juke could earn you a fight with a townie in a Fighting Irish jersey — but session night (or, sorry, seisiún) with a bunch of old guys with blotchy faces and tweed caps in the corner beating drums and blowing on flutes and bitching about the Black and Tans, guys who are feeling their tragic roots so hard that no one dares utter a word and you have to sit there for at least three or four laments, maybe a jig, before you can sneak back out the door. The Decemberists — who now, by the looks of their website, all seem to live together on a farm (with a horse) — have abandoned their quirky literate style for a presumably more honest kind of act.
The Hazards of Love, an overreaching 2009 rock opera, exposed a band in dire need of a fresh start. The Decemberists redeem themselves with their sixth LP, The King Is Dead, a 40-minute set that?s more succinctly rewarding than anything they?ve done in years. Partial credit belongs to two guests: Gillian Welch adds aching harmonies throughout, while R.E.M.?s Peter Buck helps three tracks reach a marriage of twang and jangle worthy of his main crew?s mid-?80s classics.
Standing at the junction of folk and indie rock, the Decemberists have grown a career by plying what's old into new, effectively employing hoary tricks of the roots trade – song cycles, murder ballads, and folk tales – in garnering worship for The Crane Wife and 2009's The Hazards of Love. Changing course with sixth LP The King Is Dead, frontman Colin Meloy and company demonstrate such a deep entrenchment in the nexus of folk that the Portland, Ore., fivepiece can now tackle any of its subgenres' hybrids with confidence. Meloy casts The King from British folk into pure Americana rock and Southern Gothic with disarming ease.
Looking back at The Decemberists’ rise to fame, everything has always circulated around the sheer talents of head songwriter and singer Colin Meloy. The band has been a catalyst for Meloy’s fantastic ideas of twisting sordid concepts into illustriously lush and diverse albums. Through these concept albums they also developed the aspect of being a band that was not only musical but multi-dimensional.
It is, simply, a thing of beauty. Alix Buscovic 2011 The last time we heard from The Decemberists, on 2009’s The Hazards of Love, they were lost in the dense forest of a prog-inflected, 17-track experimental concept album. A mythic folk-rock opera of vaudevillian villains, fairies and doomed earthly lovers that was inspired by Anne Briggs’ 1963 a cappella folk EP, it saw the band’s smart, savvy songwriting overdressed as gothic folly.
“I play the harmonica on this one. There’s a stipulation—you play with Bob Dylan, you have to play with a harmonica, so we’re fitting it in somehow. ” In context, this is head Decemberist Colin Meloy joshing with a Seattle festival audience last September during the introduction to new single “Down By The Water.