A New Season for the Decemberists
Courtney Eckerle | Tuesday, January 25, 2011
The Decemberists’ sixth album, “The King is Dead,” has a lighter, more relaxed sound than the previous five. While it is easier, less somber than its predecessors, it is also tethered in depressing Oregon tales. While fitting for a Portland-based band, it can be a burden next to otherwise uplifting music. However, this latest venture is a Broadway musical when compared to the 12-minute murder ballad from “The Crane Wife” in 2006.
Colin Meloy’s melancholy crooning is as present as ever, and the band continues their foray into the sound of R.E.M. with guest guitar work from Peter Buck. “Down By The Water” seems almost as recognizable as R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion.” Gillian Welch also contributes vocals to the song, adding her own beautifully haunting sound to round out the melody.
The best part of this new venture is that it has songs as bright and sunny as the album’s front cover. “Calamity Song” may have a dire theme — apparently “California succumbed to the fault line,” ouch — but the tune will have you toe-tapping and head bobbing like any Beach Boys ditty.
A harmonica riff opens up the album with “Don’t Carry It All”, a song that possesses a great refrain complete with singable lyrics and keeps the accompanying groovy harmonica throughout. It is arguably one of the best tracks, combining an interesting melody with engaging lyrics.
“All Arise!” is a surprising honky-tonk hoedown tune with a fiddle thrown in for good measure. “Rox in the Box” also possesses an Americana feel to it and, much like its title, has a catchy rhyme scheme you’ll repeat absentmindedly long after you listen. “Dear Avery” is a depressing, sleepy ballad about a dead little girl— ultimately forgettable, and immediately dull. Skip it.
“The King is Dead” will manage to both draw in new fans and keep the old, while still moving on from their last album, “The Hazards of Love,” which was a critical flop. The Decemberists are able to move forward and evolve by combining a more upbeat style with their complicated spun tales of friend and foe, life and love, from the prairies all the way to Byzantium — all while scratching Meloy’s itch to pepper his lyrics with words no one has bothered to use since their invention.
So as Meloy croons in “Don’t Carry It All,” let us “raise a glass to the turning of the seasons” and toast this evolved version of our beloved Decemberists.
Label: Capitol Records
Best Tracks: “Don’t Carry It All,” “Rox in the Box,” “All Arise!,” “Down By The Water”
If you like: R.E.M., Neil Young
Shamrocks: 2 1/2 out of 4