Album Review: The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

So now it’s January and indie rockers release their first album since 2009 entitled the King is Dead. I’m not sure if the title is a knock on the Smiths classic album or at least a homage. Who knows. The album leaked on the internet a few weeks ago but I fought the urge and got it today. This is my first and initial thoughts on the album. So let’s see if it holds up to previous works and if it is as good as I hope. The first single “Down by the Water” was catchy enough to leave me wanting for more from them so upon the first listening these are my thoughts on The Decemberists’ The King is Dead, their sixth record out today in stores.

Track Listing:

1. “Don’t Carry It All” 4:17
2. “Calamity Song” 3:50
3. “Rise to Me” 4:59
4. “Rox in the Box” 3:10
5. “January Hymn” 3:14
6. “Down by the Water” 3:42
7. “All Arise!” 3:10
8. “June Hymn” 3:58
9. “This Is Why We Fight” 5:31
10. “Dear Avery” 4:52

The first track “Don’t Carry it All” starts off and it has this good vibe for it. Lyrically it feels a bit devoid of classic Decemberists songs, but at the same time it tells a tale like lead singer and principal songwriter Colin Meloy loves to do. I love the harmonica that is strewn throughout the entire song, most likely played by Meloy as it rings out loud when there are no lyrics. This isn’t the best song by the band but you know what, it has a definite chorus that isn’t catchy like some songs but as a lead off song it’s well done.

From the harmonica driven track we move into one of my early favorites from the album, “Calamity Song.” This song feels like classic Meloy song writing. Granted it has evolved over the years but it maintains that poppy folk feel that they had on albums like Piquarese but at the same time it feel different. The fast pace set by the song is reminiscent of a fast beat “Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect” or maybe even “July, July.” I really do like the lyrics in this song because it fits with the beat and the sound, there is no way that you can hate this song because I have a smile on my face the whole damn time.

Following the pop romp comes a track called “Raise Me.” This song is a very slow ballad-esque track. It’s strong as their tracks of this style are. It’s biggest strength is the lyrics that Meloy crafts. He seems to always whittle a song from 5 minutes to form this elegant story about love or something along those lines. The thing that makes this song work so wonderfully is his voice. The way he enunciates certain words and the way he has that unique sound makes this song not a typical country song. The instrumentals though give off that vibe that it could be a country track if it were almost anyone but Meloy bringing it to life with his voice.

“Rox in the Box” is the fourth song on the album. Ignoring the title which seems absurd it starts off similar to a folky/rock westerny song. Meloy immediately after just a few seconds in begins to weave a tale in his lyrics. I actually like this song. I am not sure why but the beat has this nice happy vibe to it that they, much like Belle and Sebastian do, even on depressing tracks. I love the line “If you ever make it to ten, you won’t make it again” as if alluding to the fact that once you count to ten once the next time you’ll die. The instrumentals remain virtually constant and continues to have that style that might fit in a film like True Grit. The theme is obviously about dying and waiting for your time or at least that’s what i gather from some of the lyrics.

“January Hymn” brings the album to a halt to a certain extent with it’s old school throwback to the slower yet friendlier tracks to non fans. The humming or buzzing or whatever you want to call it that is in the background that enhances Meloy’s voice with the soothing guitar lulls you into a false sense of comfort as the lyrics talk about wasting your day away by fighting off winter or something like that. Meloy is the center focus on this track with his voice which generally isn’t the strongest thing about the band but it works due to the strong writing. So far I have yet to find a real weak song but it could be an early listen. I do want to note right here that the album is different than their other works to an extent but I’ll get to that at the end of the album.

“Down By the Water” is at around the half way point for the album and it feels like a Bruce Springsteen song mixed with REM but by the Decemberists. It’s catchy and happy, I find that it gets stuck in my head multiple times even if I don’t listen to it, if I only think about it and bam it’s right there. The thing about this song is this, it’s not your usual Decemberists track, it’s poppy, it feels like a folky version of another band’s song, but when they go poppy it works for them because Meloy is that damn talented. Shame to say it might be my favorite track due to it’s catchiness, no other song so far has gotten stuck. The harmonica keeps coming back and I haven’t drawn a final decision on whether or not I like that or not.

We have reached the half way point of the album going from tracks that are happy and uplifting beat wise and then slowing down back to a point where we are getting ready for another up part. As “Down by the Water” closes out we enter the seventh track entitled “All Arise!” The thing about this song that stands out at first is the opening. It bothers me. The fiddle, I think that’s what it is, is annoying. This song bothers me right from the start. I find this song to be the least entertaining and good song on the album. Meloy’s lyrics feel like he’s trying to salvage a horrible country song but not even trying to make it folky is working. They should have just done “The Mariner’s Revenge Song Part 2” here instead of this tune. I don’t find anything really redeemable about this track so I want to click next on my media player.

“June Hymn” follows the weakest song on the album. The song much like the January version is a slow acoustic track. It does a good job attempting to cover up the awful track that was laid before it. I like the lyrics more on this one than on the last one. It has that sense of intimacy versus the country folk nightmare that was the last one. The harmonica returns once again as Meloy soothingly sings his lyrics about a yellow bonnet. I don’t like bonnets but just hearing him sing just tells me things are going to be all right once summer comes to Springville.

“This is Why We Fight” has an upbeat tempo and feels more like the REM style of song that we thought would be on the album. I actually really like this one. It has nice lyrics talking about the reasons why we fight, as humans, good message, well to an extent. But at the same time I love the beat that they bring to this song. One of the best songs off of the album, and it does a damn good job making me forget that awful song just a bit ago. When Meloy doesn’t sing the instruments pick up and have a more alternative rock feel to it and that may be a strange concept to fans of the band but it doesn’t hurt them too much.This song would be a great closing song because of how it feels.

The final track is called “Dear Avery” and it starts off as a very slow paced track. It fits as a closer though even though I loved the last one a lot. This song moves at a nice even albeit slow pace and it’s good. I really think this album is solid from top to bottom with that one track problem.

Meloy and his mates crafted an album worthy of praise as they range from their old styles to a new take with a folky sounding REM style the band shows the evolution of their sound through ten tracks. One can only hope though that the seventh studio EP from them won’t take forever to be put out and that they actually tour in this general area (PA is snubbed by the group, we need a petition going).

Overall I score the album a nice 8.75/10, citing some country sounding instrumentals as well as too many poppy songs being strong weaknesses but strong lyrics and some stand out tracks being huge positives.

Coming in the next few week’s we’ll have reviews form Iron and Wine, Say Hi, and Cut Copy.

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About Angerbanjo

As passionate as one can be about certain topics it is hard to make a living with that passion, that being said my passion for nerd culture, modern music and video gaming has yet to translate into anything moderately successful, that and my degree in electronic media, but hey at least I can use that journalism minor. View all posts by Angerbanjo

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