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Old 01-09-2011, 10:30 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default The Decemberists - The King is Dead (2011)


The Decemberists
The King is Dead
(2011)


I’ve never really liked the Decemberists. I’ve always felt like I should have though. They share several characteristics with some of my favourite musicians. Colin Meloy’s nasally tenor is akin to that of Brian Molko, their use of unorthodox instrumentation such as accordion and melodica is reminiscent of baroque pop, and the band cites Death Cab for Cutie as an influence.

So what do I find so unappealing about their music? I guess it would have to be their reliance on concepts and narrative. I have no problem with concept albums in general; My Chemical Romance is one of my favourite bands. But Meloy draws inspiration from sources so obscure, that I find it impossible to circumvent the feeling of alienation. I’m bemused at how anyone can remain interested in him crooning about fairy queens and whatnot for the better part of an hour.

That’s probably why I found The King is Dead a refreshing change in direction. It would appear that the band have completely restructured their approach to making an album. Meloy has ditched the concepts, traded in the accordion for a harmonica, and enlisted the instrumental duties of R.E.M.’s Peter Buck. This new attitude makes for a less grandiose production, but also a far more accessible one. Meloy’s lyrics no longer read like an English Masters essay, and choruses are featured far more prominently than in previous releases.

It’s no surprise that the Decemberists called on Peter Buck to contribute to this album. The band wears the R.E.M. influence on their sleeve. The stripped-back folk rock sound of the record can be likened to that of an R.E.M. album, and it’s hard to ignore the offensive rip-off of “The One I Love” that is “Down By The Water”. Still, I’d much rather listen to an enjoyably derivative album than an original, yet overtly self-indulgent one.

Meloy has also toned down his vocabulary for this release. His lyrics no longer need to be bundled with a glossary sheet, as he has replaced his usual abundance of four-syllable words with simplistic, at times clichéd rhymes (“You keep on rollin’… like a ship at ocean, like a ship at sea).

On The King is Dead, the Decemberists have rid their music of everything that was distinct, yet polarising about it. While fans of the band may see this as a step backwards, there’s no denying that the group have crafted an enjoyable collection of catchy folk-rock songs, and that needs to be embraced. Try to look at this record not as a drift towards the middle of the road, but rather a swerve out of the gutter.

Rating: 7.5/10
Best track: June Hymn

Last edited by andy_chalmers_102; 01-10-2011 at 12:51 AM.
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Old 01-18-2011, 02:31 PM   #2 (permalink)
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You said "they dumbed down their lyrics" in the nicest way possible. Honestly I think this is one of the worst things they've ever done.
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Old 01-18-2011, 05:53 PM   #3 (permalink)
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I thought it was better than Hazards, but lyrically a disappointment.
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Old 02-03-2011, 10:32 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by andy_chalmers_102 View Post

Try to look at this record not as a drift towards the middle of the road, but rather a swerve out of the gutter.
Alright this is my first post so I'm going to try this out.
I think this comment is a little harsh dude. I mean yes, you admitted you aren't really a fan of the Decemberists but they were definitely never in the gutter. I've been a Decemberists fan for awhile, even though I wasn't particularly crazy about Hazards of Love, but the fact that you're complimenting them for dumbing down their lyrics so you can better enjoy it? I don't know. Something strange about that. I'm not a fantasy kid, but what's wrong with listening to lyrics that offer fantastical views? The Decemberists also bring a lot of nautical themes too...have anything against pirates? I'm not crazy about My Chemical Romance so maybe I shouldn't be saying anything to you- but I've never, ever felt alienated by their lyrics. You have to listen to the songs as a whole. Give Castaways and Cutouts another try. Really beautiful songs on that. Don't fret on the words.
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Old 02-03-2011, 01:17 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Also, Meloy's vernacular and wordplay are one of my favourite aspects of the band, and the fact that they dropped it is indeed, the worst aspect of the record.
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Old 02-13-2011, 03:53 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Funny. At the time Hazards of Love came out, I was deeply into Picaresque, and did not take well to Hazards at all. They came to town touring the album, and I had no interest in going. It wasn't until a friend whom I respect music-wise was adamant that I give Hazards a proper chance that I finally started to see its beauty. The storyline may be rather whimsical but it is eloquently delivered, and no one can argue that Shara's (My Brightest Diamond) voice is nothing short of amazing. Seriously, just watch any live performance by her. The fact she's a trained opera singer is obvious.

Now I kick myself for not going to that show.

Back to the topic of The King is Dead, this album is a little country for me. I'm still trying to get used to it. Some songs are quite beautiful, others I cringe at a little bit. I don't see it getting a lot better for me - perhaps I shouldn't have just bought the LP without listening first.
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