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Decemberists, The - The King is Dead Album Cover
Author's Rating
Vocals 9
Musicianship 9.5
Lyrics 9
Production 10
Creativity 7
Lasting Value 8
Reviewer Tilt 9.5
Final Verdict: 89%
Member Ratings
Vocals 7.54
Musicianship 7.32
Lyrics 7.25
Production 8.93
Creativity 6.57
Lasting Value 6.96
Reviewer Tilt 7.11
Average: 74%
Inside AP.net

Decemberists, The - The King is Dead

Reviewed by: Ian Walker (01/22/11)
The Decemberists - The King is Dead
Record Label: Capitol Records
Release Date: January 18, 2011

Portland indie mainstays The Decemberists stood at a fork in the road after the release of their last album, The Hazards of Love, in early 2009. Was there a way they could top the deep concepts behind the crafting of that album? Should they even try? While Hazards may have left a bitter taste in some fans' mouths, it stands as just another monument in the band's impressive history. Frontman Colin Meloy is no stranger to basing music around a unifying concept, as their 2006 release The Crane Wife also carried a bit of exposition throughout each track, but the band's unique take on rock opera was a definite straying from the proverbial path.

The disparity between Hazards and their latest album, The King is Dead, is surprising. While they've changed and progressed between nearly all of their albums, the complete shift in style is rather unprecedented. Fortunately, the conversion to more old-school country and folk sensibilities works well. Their signature lyrics, somehow hopeful and somber at the same time, are still in the foreground, but are supported by a more concise musical base. Some may call The King is Dead less ambitious than the band's previous outings, and that may be true. But with just one listen, it's apparent that it led to the creation of a more complete album.

“Don't Carry It All” opens the album as a perfect summary for what follows. Musically, this track is all over the place. It's mostly carried by subdued violin and bass drum centric percussion, but quick moments of mandolin and harmonica dot its musical landscape. The track is heavily layered, especially for an opener, but never strays into confusing territory. Meloy and guest backup vocalist Gillian Welch add a bit of Southern twang with their impressive harmonizing, and they do so without sounding like they're trying too hard. Much like the rest of the album, this opener proves that The Decemberists aren't just emulating a style. They understand the music all the way down to its roots, and do an amazing job of making it their own.

While the style of the album remains uniform throughout each track, the subject matter is anything but. “Calamity Song” is overflowing with symbolic imagery and odd visions of the future, their dark subject matter conflicting with the almost exuberant nature of the song. “Rise to Me” conjures pictures of nature and the lessons we can take away from the world around us. “January Hymn” and “June Hymn” seem to go hand in hand, as they both describe a yearning for days past. Even though the album is varied lyrically, Meloy's writing is cohesive and intelligent, and flows along naturally instead of conflicting.

The King is Dead closes with two very different songs. “This is Why We Fight” is the black sheep of the album, straying almost entirely from the formula used in other tracks. Although the guitar riffs are very Southern in nature, it's a heavier, percussion-driven track reminiscent of the band's earlier albums. It's not bad by any means, but comes off as a little unimaginative when compared to the rest of the album. The closer, “Dear Avery,” is much softer. Starting off with only acoustic guitars, it seems to tell the story of watching a child grow to be an adult. It's far and away the most emotional song on the album, growing slowly with each line as more and more instruments are added to the mix. Meloy and Welch are very reserved vocally, leaving us half-way through with just the music and a perfect ending to the album.

On The King is Dead, The Decemberists decided to fully immerse themselves in a style they've flirted with for years. Even with the incorporation of fiddles, harmonica, and ragtime piano to their normal repertoire of instruments, the album never feels cluttered or heavy-handed. Instead, it feels incredibly clean and expansive, thanks to some of the best production I've heard in years. While it's easy to label The King is Dead as an album rife with Americana, Meloy and company are reserved enough to keep it from becoming too cheesy. A blending of old-school tendencies and modern techniques, The King is Dead is a perfect image of symmetry that makes for one fantastic album.

Track Listing1. Don't Carry It All
2. Calamity Song
3. Rise to Me
4. Rox in the Box
5. January Hymn
6. Down by the Water
7. All Arise!
8. June Hymn
9. This is Why We Fight
10. Dear Avery


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Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 45
04:19 PM on 01/22/11
#2
AdamJL
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I love this album! It was very cool to hear a very strong country feel on it.
04:50 PM on 01/22/11
#3
bandnamexmyname
&^%^&
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I want to hear this.
05:18 PM on 01/22/11
#4
steve-0
i think youre an idiot
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ive listened to them since "Her Majesty". Crane Wife was a big disappointment. I liked parts of PIcaresque, but this new album is their best stuff by far. Solid from start to finish. their past albums were more complicated and ambitious than this, and the simplicity of this album is part of why I like it so much. It relies on the great songwriting (lyrics and melodies) instead of on trying to wow us with crazy weird arrangements. Its alot more enjoyable this way.
05:43 PM on 01/22/11
#5
EndSerenading
we were born for battle
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definitely my least favorite album of theirs /shrug
06:30 PM on 01/22/11
#6
Argentine
When I die, rap dies; Destiny Bond.
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Gotta get me some of this.
08:16 PM on 01/22/11
#7
Tec Mason
Christian. Market Anarchist.
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This album is Win.
09:25 PM on 01/22/11
#8
Ryan Gardner
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I wish I could get into this record/this type of music
11:14 PM on 01/22/11
#9
Matthew Tsai
Born and raised
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Good review Ian. Still haven't gotten the chance to listen to it beyond the first track haha, but my what a beauty that first track is.
03:36 AM on 01/23/11
simplejack
Soundtrack of My Silence
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ive listened to them since "Her Majesty". Crane Wife was a big disappointment. I liked parts of PIcaresque, but this new album is their best stuff by far. Solid from start to finish. their past albums were more complicated and ambitious than this, and the simplicity of this album is part of why I like it so much. It relies on the great songwriting (lyrics and melodies) instead of on trying to wow us with crazy weird arrangements. Its alot more enjoyable this way.

agree with this wholeheartedly
02:01 PM on 01/23/11
Steeeve Perry
Pushin' th' little daisies
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Great live act too
06:47 PM on 01/23/11
miranda.marley
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Good stuff, the harmonica always adds the right amount of soul.
10:59 PM on 01/23/11
Jairbear
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I really love this album!
12:11 AM on 01/24/11
imnick
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love this album. Liked their other albums but none even close to this
09:15 AM on 01/24/11
trappedintime
Yea, you were right about me
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I must be slacking, I didn't even realize this was out yet. I've gotta take a listen. Well written review though!
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