The Decemberists - Long Live the King
Record Label: Capitol
Released: November 1, 2011
In the past two years indie music has hit the mainstream harder than ever, with Arcade Fire besting Eminem and Lady Gaga, winning a Grammy for Album of the Year, indie-folk groups such as Mumford and Sons selling over a million copies of their debut album, and artists like The Decemberists achieving chart success and heavy rotation on mainstream rock radio.
The latter band’s early 2011 album, The King is Dead, was a critical and commercial success for the group. Showcasing their Americana/Alt Rock style, reminiscent of R.E.M. (R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck is a reoccurring sideman at live shows) and boasting big songwriting skills from front man Colin Meloy. Now, at the tail end of the year, the band is releasing the EP Long Live the King, a six-song set, featuring a Grateful Dead cover and outtakes from The King is Dead’s sessions.
The EP leads off with two superb unreleased tracks. The first, “E. Watson”, has Meloy crooning a story of a plantation owner Edgar Watson, and contains refrains full of flooding and death, two themes that were largely present on the band’s last album. The acoustic track is chilling, largely with help from harmony vocals supplied by Laura Veirs and Annalisa Tornfely. The second track, “Forgone” has a prevalent country twang. The track sounds like it could be an outtake from fellow indie-folk titans Bright Eye’s 2007 alt-country album Cassadaga.
The band infuses fuzz guitar in the somber “Burying Davy”, which benefits from bare-bones production, giving guitarist Chris Funk a chance to noodle in the forefront of all the musical chaos that accompanies the track once the full band comes in. The band takes the intensity from that slow burner into the folk-romp of “I 4 U & U 4 Me” which sounds like it would have been very much so at home on the album from which it was cut.
The EP’s low point, a cover of “Row Jimmy” by the Grateful Dead, is a too faithful cover. The band’s inability to try anything new on the recording makes the listener wish we had another original track, instead of a note for note rendition of an oldie. The album closes with the sweet “Sonnet”. The tune features a kick and snare beat, a fun horn section, and Meloy’s vocals reaching the top of his register, at times sounding eerily similar to indie music virtuoso Jeff Magnum of Neutral Milk Hotel. The song goes from acoustic swan song to a New Orleans-jazz inspired party.
Overall, the EP works wonders, given largely to the fact that it contains unreleased tracks from sessions of the band’s greatest, most straightforward work to date. Meloy has stated that after touring for The King is Dead, the band plans to take a hiatus from recording. Hopefully this little collection of songs is enough to tide die hard fans over. If only it were longer…
I've always had the hardest time getting into their music, because of it's art rock nature. I feel like I'd have to set so much time aside to fully understand the full story they're portraying. It's all or nothing for bands like this for me, and they just have soooo much music. It's frustrating because they do make great music.
They are great live, though. I guess sometimes it is well enough to just sit back and enjoy music for quality rather than quantity.