the decemberists the king is dead
  • THURSDAY, JANUARY 20, 2011

  • Posted by: Derrick Wiest

When the Decemberists signed with Capitol Records, back in 2006, concern arose among some fans that the label would pressure the Portland rockers to push for more mainstream appeal. Instead, the band released what may have been their most inaccessible recordings to date: The Crane Wife, half concept album, half eclectic mix of tracks, including an eerie lullaby about the Shankill Butchers, and 2009's The Hazards Of Love, a rock opera set in a medieval fantasy world, in which the spirit of the forest serves as the lead antagonist. Nevertheless, the band continued to sell out concerts, due largely to a devout fan base who eagerly embrace a challenge; it seems like the biggest risk the Decemberists could take would be recording a stripped-down folk rock album, a la Tarkio circa '99.

Naturally, that's exactly what happened, with pronounced country influences, no less. Despite the allusion in the album's title, The King Is Dead sounds more like R.E.M.'s Reckoning than the iconic LP by The Smiths, an effect which is further enhanced by the presence of R.E.M.'s own Peter Buck, and backing vocals by Gillian Welch. The album hits its stride with the help of its guests, on "Calamity Song" and "Down By The Water", but the Decemberists hold their own own just fine; the high-tempo riffs and measured build of "This Is Why We Fight" lend an energy that rivals "When The Wars Came", and the uncharacteristically minimal arrangement provides the ideal setting for the downright pretty "January Hymn" and "June Hymn", ballads in the spirit of Her Majesty's "Red Right Ankle" and Picaresque's "Of Angels And Angles."

Considering the Decemberists' catalog, the lyrics do contain an astonishing lack of anachronism. Although the band's frontman Colin Meloy persists in his penchant for SAT vocabulary, prostitutes, murderers and the usual bevy of nautical terms take a back seat, in favor of more contemporary themes. Songs come across as more personal than narrative, and a sense of fellowship pervades the sound, as on the album's opening track ("We are all our hands and holders/ Beneath this bold and brilliant sun"), and with tenderness on "Dear Avery. What the lyrics lack in novelty, compared to "A Cautionary Tale", for instance, they make up for in relatability.

In general, The King Is Dead does not came as a radical departure from anything they've done before; add some strings and a harmonica to "Summersong" and you more or less have "Rox In The Box", and leanings toward their roots abound. But the band has grown enormously since Five Songs EP a decade ago, both in technical skill and maturity. Finally, on The King Is Dead, those qualities work in unison. If Capitol had been hoping for a more marketable record than Picaresque, this might be their best shot yet, but long-time fans need not be concerned: the band's identity holds firm.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
MP3: "Down By The Water"
The Decemberists on Myspace

Hot Baeble Videos
Tigertown live at Industry City

Tigertown live at Industry City

Vancouver Sleep Clinic live at Baeble HQ

Vancouver Sleep Clinic live at Baeble HQ

Beth Hart live at Baeble HQ

Beth Hart live at Baeble HQ

AJR  live at Baeble HQ

AJR live at Baeble HQ

Jasmine Thompson live at Atlantic Records Recording Studio

Jasmine Thompson live at Atlantic Records Recording Studio

Have Mercy live at Baeble HQ

Have Mercy live at Baeble HQ

Chelsea Cutler live at Baeble HQ

Chelsea Cutler live at Baeble HQ

Clean Bandit live at Atlantic Records Recording Studio

Clean Bandit live at Atlantic Records Recording Studio

Matisyahu live at Baeble HQ

Matisyahu live at Baeble HQ

You Me At Six live at Baeble HQ

You Me At Six live at Baeble HQ

© 2017 Baeble Media. All rights reserved.