First Look: New Decemberists Album

 

Released next week on Capitol, The King Is Dead strips back the Portland
band’s sound but retains its signature hooks-filled aesthetic. Link to a full stream of the album is below.

 

By Michael Toland

It’s a familiar story arc:
band begins distinctively, improves musically, grows ambitiously, waxes
pretentiously, wanes organically. The Decemberists have so far followed this
plot to the letter, getting ever more elaborate with each album, mixing indie
pop, British folk and ‘70s prog into a complex tapestry that climaxed with the
madly ambitious rock opera The Hazards of
Love
, a record both impressive in its skill and scope and nearly impenetrable
in its intent.

 

After building such a
towering edifice, there’s only one thing for such sonic architects to do: construct
a modest, comfortable bungalow. On The
King Iis Dead
, the Portland
quintet strips its sound down to simpler forms, de-emphasizing conceptual
connectivity and sweeping arrangements in favor of more straightforward
melodies and obvious hooks. Leader Colin Meloy deliberately keeps his song
structures simple, sticking with basic folk- and country-rock tunes that allude
more directly to his early inspirations. “Don’t Carry It All,” “January Hymn”
and “Rox in the Box” (which interpolates the melody from the old British tune
“The Raggle Taggle Gypsy”) stand as some of Meloy’s catchiest tunes, easy to
sing along with after a single spin. In a direct homage to R.E.M., one of the
band’s main influences, the band has guitarist Peter Buck, no stranger to hooky
tunes, adds his sparkle to “Calamity Song” and the ridiculously memorable “Down
By the Water.”

 

As usual, Meloy’s lyrics
range from the straightforward (the countrified “All Arise,” the lovely “Dear
Avery”) to the highly literary (the rocking “This is Why We Fight,” the Dylanesque
“June Hymn”). But even when he’s at his most convoluted – “Calamity Song”
begins with the line “You and me and the war of the enzymes” – Meloy is careful
to marry the libretto to music with near-instant appeal. It’s possible recent
fans may be disappointed in the easy accessibility of The King Is Dead, but a satchel full of hooks rarely hurt anybody,
and it just makes the Decemberists more likeable to non-geeks without
compromising their essential artistic vision.

 

You can listen to a stream of the entire album at the NPR Music site. 

 

 

 

 

 

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