Jan. 11 marked a special day for some music lovers as the sixth full-length Decemberists album, “The King is Dead,” was released.
The band has been tantalizing fans with the early debut of the album’s single, “Down by the Water,” simultaneously preparing the diehards for what would be a slightly different sound from their usual stuff. For those who have not yet had the pleasure of getting to know this super smart, indie-folk, Morrisey-loving band, then the time has arrived.
The Decemberists hail from Portland, Ore., and have been making great album after great album since their first EP in 2001, “5 Songs.” The Decemberists (named after the December Revolt) are fronted by singer/songwriter Colin Meloy, known for his nasally, bleating voice as well as his whimsical, verbose lyrics that tend to spin tales of pirates, whales and doomed lovers.
The band branched out in a big way after they released “The Hazards of Love” in 2009, an epic folk-rock opera inspired by Russian folk tales. This overdone concept-heavy production failed to impress fans or critics but did succeed in yielding some now-favorites like “Annan Water” and the insanely catchy “Rake’s Song” which turned the subject of infanticide into a toe-tapper.
And now the Decemberists shift genres once more with “King” as the band swaps British-inspired folk for American. From the first line declaring, “Here we come to the turning of the season,” it is clear that we’re not in for another literary romp complete with Dickensian motifs, not that there’s anything wrong with that. The screaming harmonica of “Don’t Carry it All,” the opening track, ushers in 40 minutes of steel pedal strumming, fiddle-filled, country-infused melodies. This album makes good use of REM’s Peter Buck on guitar, and the voice of Coloradan Laura Veirs who accompanies Meloy and the crew with an Americana twang.
Although the album as a whole neither surpasses nor quite matches some of their older work, “King” does present a handful of soon-to-be favorites. In addition to the album’s first single “Down by the Water,” “Calamity Sing” and “All Arise” stand out as bouncy, boisterous tunes that are hard to shake, and the tenderly crooned “January Hymn” is a bittersweet gem that sparkles in its simplicity. The album is the right move for a group whose past work is almost too strong to compete with. It’s a solid must-have that is unlikely to make the “best of” lists for 2011 but boasts well-crafted music and Meloy’s lyrical genius.