This is the kind of record that I’m happy to own, but I definitely have to be in a certain mood to listen to it.
The King is Dead
Artist: The Decemberists
Time: 10 tracks/41 minutes
The Decemberists earned a lot of attention in 2006 when they released The Crane Wife, and that attention was well deserved. It was a terrific blend of Americana folk and 70s rock that maybe wasn’t wholly original, but it caught me at a time in life where it really struck a chord with me. The follow-up, The Hazards of Love, mined the same territory, but just didn’t resonate as much with me. Now, the band has released The King is Dead, where they have apparently jettisoned their rock influences and focused completely on the folk.
I’m still not completely sure if this is a really good thing. I like the new record as a whole, even though I find myself missing the sort of Pink Floydian guitar lines that enhanced its predecessors. I’m also cautious of folk as a genre because, while there are plenty of talented folk musicians out there, there’s a sameness to much of their output. The Decemberists do fall into that trap here, especially on songs like “Rise to You,” “All Arise,” and “Down by the Water” which are fine songs by themselves, but with the way traditional folk instruments like harmonica, pedal steel, and banjo are being used, they would have a hard time standing apart from other folk acts. The band did make the smart move of bringing in Gillian Welch to do quite a bit of singing on the record, and her voice adds plenty of unique character as it blends nicely with front man Colin Meloy’s. You also get bonus appearances from R.E.M.’s Peter Buck on “Calamity Song” and “Don’t Carry it All.”
All in all, there’s nothing new here, but it’s still a well-made and well-written folk record. Meloy also provides plenty of dense, literary lyrics for the listeners to puzzle through, though “This is Why We Fight” could be an anthem for anyone who has strong beliefs in any kind of doctrine or dogma, including Christianity. This is the kind of record that I’m happy to own, but I definitely have to be in a certain mood to listen to it. While this is an enjoyable release, I’m hoping that it’s just a brief excursion and that the band will bring the rock AND the folk on the next record.
Eric Landfried 4/6/11