Record Review: the Decemberists – ‘The King is Dead’ (Album)


The coming of the new year brings with it a host of ‘new’ items: new possibilities for the upcoming year, new resolutions to make then break, and apparently, a new album by the Decemberists.

In keeping with the ‘new’ theme, The King is Dead is fairly new unto itself.  The last album from the Decemberists, entitled The Hazards of Love, was rife with story and concept that drove the album from beginning to end.  The King is Dead, on the other hand, concerns itself less with story and concept, and more with simply making good music.  This contrast in musical tendency allows for each song on the The King is Dead to be great even whilst standing alone without a storyline to guide the listener.

With this effort Colin Meloy and his fellow cohorts have concocted a nice slice of folksy Americana tune-age.  Sounding reminiscent of R.E.M. at times and like Neil Young at others, The King is Dead is a nice look at some of the Decemberists’ major influences.

Most of the album employs fairly simple instrumentation with the likes of acoustic guitars, harmonicas, and strings guiding us sonically across the soundscape.  “Don’t Carry It All” roars out of the gate with harmonica pouring out of the speakers and is followed by the folksy, up-tempo “Calamity Song”.  The two tracks with “Hymn” in their titles (“January Hymn” and “June Hymn”) may be the stand-out tracks on the album, highlighting Mr. Meloy’s intimate vocals over acoustic guitars and organs without the accompaniment of drums of any sort.  The most ‘rocking’ track might be the fairly epic ditty entitled, “This Is Why We Fight”, near the end of the LP–again, not a ton of instrumentation, just up-tempos drumming behind acoustic guitar work, with nice octaves being plucked on the electric guitar of Chris Funk while Colin Meloy croons about the pleasures of fighting for what one loves most.

The King is Dead, for all of its simplicity, is a clean, sharp album with nice performances to go along with the always outstanding song-writing style of Colin Meloy.  It is simple indeed, but beautiful, also.

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(Rough Trade / Capital Records, 2011)


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