- Audio CD (Jan. 18 2011)
- Number of Discs: 1
- Format: CD, Audiobook
- Label: Universal Music Canada
- ASIN: B0049OSQ18
- Other Editions: Audio CD | LP Record
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #25,793 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
The King Is Dead CD, Audiobook
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|1. 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|
2011 album from the Portland-based Alt-Rock/Folk band. The King Is Dead is a mostly-acoustic set of concise, Americana-based songs, that marks a deliberate turn towards simplicity after the band's wildly ambitious and acclaimed 2009 song-cycle The Hazards Of Love. Produced once again by Tucker Martine, The King Is Dead features special guest appearances by Americana luminary Gillian Welch and legendary R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck. The album showcases the ways in which The Decemberists sound just as glorious in simple, stripped-down compositions as they do on the elaborate structures that have defined their work for years. The album was recorded in a converted barn at Pendarvis Farm, an 80-acre estate of lush meadows, forest, and Mt. Hood views outside of Portland.
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"Here we come to a turning of the season,/witness to the arc towards the sun," Colin Meloy announces over a bed of twangy acoustic guitar and harmonica. "Don't carry it all, don't carry it all/we are all our hands in holders/beneath this bold and brilliant sun/this I swear to all, this I swear to all..."
That folksy Americana sound sets the mood for the rest of the album: the speedy country-rocker "Calamity Song," the mellow bluesy ballads like "January Hymn," fiddle-driven dance tunes, cluttered twangy rockers like "Down By The Water," the gritty tight rocker "This Is Why We Fight" (although the opening section made me think of the "Tremors" theme song), and the languidly sunny finale "Dear Avery."
It's pretty obvious that Colin Meloy and the other Decemberists are pretty passionate fans of Americana, folk and country-inspired music. It oozes from this album. It drips from this album. "The King is Dead" feels like one long homage to that kind of music, and you can't mistake the love that is woven into these songs.
In fact, that is the biggest stumbling block in this album: it feels like a loving homage, not a natural musical expression of the Decemberists themselves. The music is a dusty, golden-hued blend of acoustic guitars, harmonicas, fiddles and other folksy instruments, and the Decemberists carry them off smoothly and skillfully. It's good music, but it just doesn't feel natural.
Fortunately, Colin Meloy's nasal voice twists itself easily into a heartfelt twang, and he weaves himself through the songs as naturally as another classic folk-rock instrument. And the lyrics are filled with the sort of sentiments you find in such songs -- they evoke summertime in the American countryside, with winding rivers, countrysides filled with flowers, mines and other such things.
The folk/country slant doesn't quite show the Decemberists off at their best, but "The King is Dead" is still a strong, enthusiastic homage to a simpler king of music.
What I've loved about the Decemberists has been their unique blend of folk and progressive rock, challenging lyrics, great storytelling, and Meloy's distinctive voice. All of that is absent here, even Meloy's voice seems to have changed, especially past the first track, to the point where I had to check the liner notes to make sure it was still him. Technically, I guess you'd say his voice has actually improved, but it has lost its character, which to me was the voice of the band. Imagine Neil Young singing without his signature flat sound. Actually, aside from that, this album seems to owe a lot to Neil Young.
Having settled into a mellow jam of American new country and folk, the band doesn't deliver anything you aren't getting (and much better) from Mumford & Sons or Fleet Foxes. But then I suppose I am more biased to the British folk revival sound of the earlier Decemberists. I have to admit I grit my teeth with each song on this album that begins with the cliched droning of a harmonica. "Rox in the Box" is the one track that offers a vestige of the band's former glory.
If you're interested in acquainting yourself with this band for the first time, I'd recommend Picaresque and The Crane Wife as excellent places to start instead of this album. If you loved those albums, you won't find much common ground here.
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