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4.5 out of 5 stars
The King Is Dead
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148 of 164 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2011
Format: MP3 Music
It took this album to make me admit I haven't loved The Decemberists more recent work as much as I would have liked. For all the great moments on The Hazards of Love and The Crane Wife (and there are many), there were also copious amounts of convolution and sort of awkward prog rock (see: The Island/...). The result was never strong enough to rob The Decemberists of their title as my favorite band, it just left me feeling like I should still be loving them more.

One listen of The King is Dead is all it took for me to remember why I still love this band, and it took none of the effort I had to invest in their bigger albums. The Decemberists, to me, don't write pretty music or clever lyrics as much as they conjure up a portal to somewhere far more romantic and beautifully tragic. Songs like Grace Cathedral Hill or On The Bus Mall still never fail to pull me into their worlds. This time around, things are far simpler than they ever have been, but the effect is similar. There are no long songs, nothing that will require 15 minutes of focus and a dictionary to figure out, nothing set in the late 1800s, and no tragically doomed romance. The result is a beautifully coherent album that may not pull you out of reality like their past works, but it will wrap this world in a gauzy glow for the sublime 40 minutes it sticks around.

I'm once again very excited to see where they go from here, but so grateful to have this in the meantime.

4.5/5
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65 of 75 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon January 18, 2011
Format: Audio CD
"The King is Dead" the new and sixth album by Portland's finest "The Decemberists" sees Colin Meloy and chums return with an album of much more straightforward songs than their previous theatrical concept outing "The Hazards of Love". The consequence for this reviewer is unadulterated pleasure since while Hazards was an impressive piece of work it is the Decemberists of the "Picaresque" era which really starts the pulses racing. Having listened to this album for two weeks streaming on NPR you will find a hugely accessible and accomplished set full of crisp Americana based songs with enough hooks to catch mackerel as evidenced by the thumping opener "Don't carry it all". In the background throughout "TKID" you will also detect the influence of two master musicians namely the jangle guitar miester Peter Buck from REM and one of gods representatives on earth, Gillian Welch the great Appalachian style country singer who sings on seven of the ten tracks.

Listen to the huge alt country ballad "Rise to me" or the gentling rolling "All arise" full of guitars, fiddle, accordion, harmonica and pedal steel to detect Welch's direct influence and it is a force for good. Not that this greater simplicity has blunted Meloy's wordy gymnastics. Anyone who can rhyme "enzymes" with "fault line" deserves a pat on the back as does the use of REM style "Reckoning" era motifs in the brilliant "Calamity song". The rootsy "Rox in the box" sounds like a nod to Mike Scott and his folk fest "Room to roam" and for good measure the Decemberists throw in a snatch of the folk standard "Raggle Taggle Gypsy" to add spice. Meloy's acoustic guitar picked ballads are always lovely and sumptuous and "January Hymn" is one of his finest yet and will one day figure on the "Best of the Decemberists". To add icing to the cake they partly reprise it with the equally sublime "June Hymn" later in the album. Another of the album's many highlights "Down by the water" starts with a haunting Springsteen like harmonica and brilliant backing vocals from Welch and combines with faint echoes of REMs "The One I love" tantalizing in the background. It's stirring stuff and destined to rock summer festivals. Meloy also admits that the excellent "This is why we fight" owes a huge debt to the Smiths with its Johnny Marr guitar lines and rousing pace (perhaps the title of the album also tips a nod to the Smiths epic "the Queen is dead"?). The brakes are put on however for the final track the ever so gentle "Dear Avery" where Welch enlists her musical partners Dave Rawlings and fellow Portlander Laura Viers to provide backing vocals.

"The King is Dead" is an understated album devoid of complexity, twelve minute prog epics and Gentle Giant like chord progressions. As such if this is what attracts you to this great band then some disappointment will follow since the template here is Neil Young's simple wonder "Comes a time" which has provided Meloy with the source inspiration for the mood of the album. This is very much the Decemberists "Americana" roots album, strong on songs, melodies and with choruses designed to infiltrate your head with greater effectiveness than a Paul McKenna hypnotist session. It is a real pearl of an album and proves what a great songwriter Colin Meloy has become. All in all a fantastic opener for 2011.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2011
Format: Audio CD
When I heard Black Prairie's album last year I thought to myself, "Man, it'd be great if they could bring some of this sound to the Decemberists." Well, that's exactly what "The King is Dead" delivered. After hearing them perform "Down by the Water" at Bumbershoot in Seattle last summer, I knew this album had the potential to be good, but I never imagined it would be this great! I've been a huge fan of the Decemberists since "Her Majesty" came out in 2003, but this album was like hearing them for the first time again. After one listen, I was immediately reminded of R.E.M. (no surprise since Peter Buck played a major role in making the album) as well as a hint of Neil Young's "Harvest Moon." Apart from these influences, the album still maintains a sound that can only be described as distinctly and uniquely Decemberists. So, if you've ever loved the Decemberists, I have no doubt that you'll enjoy this latest addition to their already incredible catalogue.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2011
Format: MP3 Music
This album is amazing. It's accessible, beautiful, and evergreen.

I loved the previous album (The Hazards of Love), but there was something about it that made it difficult to simply turn on in the middle of the day or during a party. It needed a full audience with full attention. The Kind is Dead works on every level for any listener.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2011
Format: Audio CD
"The King is Dead" is The Decemberists' sixth studio album and their most recent release since 2009's folk-rock opera masterpiece "The Hazards of Love." As one of the most anticipated albums of 2011, it's exciting to see it released in the first few weeks of the year.

"The King is Dead" opens with Colin Meloy singing "Here we come to a turning of the season."

Listeners soon find out this is a lyrical preparation for the night and day difference between this album and their last.

Where "The Hazards of Love" showered the ears with vast arrangements that flowed gracefully from one song to the next, "The King is Dead" strips The Decemberists down to their core, focusing on tight performances and beauty in simplicity.

Longtime fans will find some aspects of this record familiar, but a greater American folk influence than before gives "The King is Dead" a new and exciting feel.

After "Don't Carry It All" sets the mood of the album, The Decemberists quickly dive into the first of many miniature tributes on "The King is Dead." "Calamity Song" opens with a guitar riff so similar to R.E.M.'s "Talk About Passion" that it could only be played by Peter Buck, which it is.

For the track, R.E.M.'s founding guitarist offers up his trademark tone from their classic record "Murmur" sped up to suit The Decemberists' upbeat nod to Americana.

Any fans hoping for another classic Decemberists sailor tune complete with fiddle and accordion need look no further than "Rox in the Box." Although this song is really only one of two that fit their original mold, it proves Meloy and company have not completely abandoned the familiar seas of their past for uncharted waters.

The Decemberists know their original core of fans embraced them for their unique style and even though the band has made some drastic changes for each of their last three albums, they always maintain just enough of their trademark sound.

The other track that resembles The Decemberists' essential pattern is the first single, "Down by the Water." Although she appears frequently on "The King is Dead," folk icon Gillian Welch provides delicately balanced background vocals for the tune which also features a new instrument for The Decemberists, the harmonica.

Even with The Decemberists getting their start in Portland, Oregon, "The King is Dead" is really the first album to display a real American influence. The additions of Welch and the harmonica both play key roles in this transition.

By adding them both to a somewhat classic blueprint for the band, it's easy to see why "Down by the Water" was the obvious choice to acquaint fans to this new album.

"The King is Dead" is a much simpler recording than "The Hazards of Love" as far as the instrumentation and overall production are concerned, but to release a collection of simplified songs that sound as honest as these while still exploring new directions can easily be just as much of a challenge. For any fans of The Decemberists' previous efforts, this is a must hear.

Similar Artists: R.E.M., Noah and the Whale

Track Suggestion: "Down by the Water"
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2011
Format: MP3 Music
Well I love it. Right up my alley. Decemberists with some alt-country influence from 2010 touring with Gilliam Welch. You can pick up hints of Tom Petty riffs, gobs of REM fruit, a little melancholy Springsteen on the nose, notes of Knopler storytelling on the back palette. Drink now, but will only benefit from cellaring.
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35 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2011
Format: Audio CD
That this album sounds a bit different from the last few Decemberists albums is only to be expected. Colin Meloy has stated explicitly that this album takes some of its inspiration from the band R.E.M, with R.E.M band member Peter Buck guesting on three tracks. As a change in direction, I was, I'll admit, a bit skeptical of an R.E.M infused Decemberists album; I didn't see that mix coming at all. But change is not necessarily bad change, and I have to this moment been a loyal fan, so I got this album today as it came out and dutifully listened to it front to back. While there are a few standout tracks on this album, I couldn't help but feel a bit let down. Much of what made the Decemberists so unique, the tone and feel, the epic stories as per "Mariner's Revenge Song" or "the Crane Wife" the clever lyrics and song structure, have been intentionally stripped down. What is left is a set of pared down, and to my ears, fairly standard songs. Not bad, but not what I've come to expect from the Decemberists, a band whose every album up to now I have loved.

If the Decemberists have excelled at anything, it is creating a world for their songs to occupy. Listening to their first three albums, the real strength was in the relation of the music to the lyrics. "Legionnaire's Lament" did a wonderful job of conjuring up images of a dejected French foreign legionnaire stranded in the desert longing for his home. "On the Bus Mall" similarly brought to mind the teenage runaways of the song's lyrics. The beauty of these songs was the images and feelings they could conjure. On "The King is Dead" I struggle to think of an example of a song that quite is able to conjure up images like those previous albums. Songs like "Don't Carry It All" and "Calamity Song" sound so ordinary in comparison to what was practically musical storytelling in earlier albums. Another element that I loved so much in older Decemberists albums was the feel. Even when they contained upbeat songs, the feel of their earlier albums was undeniably darker: some songs overtly so, but even their most upbeat songs, "July, July" and "16 Military Wives", had lyrics at least hinting at something deeper and unsettling at the heart of the music. That tone is almost lacking entirely from this album. Perhaps some may be fine with that. I lament the loss of what was I think relatively deep music.

Luckily, there were a few choice cuts that really rose above the rest of the album. "Rise to Me", "January Hymn" and "June Hymn" are all great ballads in classic Decemberists style, the successors, perhaps, to "Right Red Ankle". Chris Funk adds some excellent steel pedal guitar flourishes on "Rise to Me". "This is Why We Fight", the closest thing the album has to a real burner, is also excellent, and a showcase for Meloy's guitar work, which I did not know was as good as it is. The album closer "Dear Avery" is in my mind easily the strongest track, recalling the best the Decemberists have to offer. On the strength of those five songs I can say that this purchase was not a waste for me.

"Hazards of Love" was itself a major change in direction for the Decemberists, and a polarizing album for Decemberists fans, so I have chosen not to reference it in this review. I will, however, draw comparisons to to the core collection of Decemberists albums that really represented their style until very recently: "Castaways and Cutouts", "Her Majesty", "Picaresque" and "The Crane Wife". Despite the strength of a few great tracks on "The King Is Dead", I can't but say that each of those albums is superior. Some who were put off by the change of tone in "The Hazards of Love" (I'll say that I loved it, actually) expected this to be a return to form for the Decemberists. Rather, it is yet another direction, but this time, a less unique and, I can't help feeling, a less emotionally powerful one.
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25 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2011
Format: MP3 Music
To echo another reviewer on Amazon (who gave this album five stars), the "King is Dead" reminds me why I loved the last two Decemberists releases so much. Why? Because I love ten minute songs that some would dare call suites. I love convoluted concept albums about talking deer and evil Queens and the ghost of dead children haunting a rakish villain. I love 18th century references and eastern myths turned into three part epics and hearing words I would never hear in any other song from any other band. I love bands that indulge their every whim and deliver the album they want to make, darn the consequences.
Listening to this, I don't hear any of the above. Yes, the lyrics are still some of the smartest around, but in this case, the intelligence is a by-product of the lyricist's vocabulary, not an intentional swing for the literary bleachers. If I had to describe this album, I would call it "folk country with a slightly mythical tinge", which really means nothing other than the fact that it's mostly acoustic, mostly mid-tempo, and mostly about melancholy days and melancholy love. Even the potentially intriguing "Calamity Song"- ooh, what calamity?- is about a dream. Sigh.
This album never comes close to rocking, and I must admit, I love when the Decemberists rock out. Every time the Queen showed up on "Hazards of Love"? I got chills; and I get giddy when I hear their King-Crimson slosh stomp on "The Island".
This album calmed me, soothed me, put me to sleep. For what it is- acoustic folk pop songs- it is good. That is not what I wanted from this band at this point, however, so I am disappointed. You may love it, I don't know. Be warned, however, if you are expecting anything similar to the last two albums.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2011
Format: Audio CD
It's back to basics and a return to form for Colin Meloy and his Decemberists. The last two albums (Hazards of Love and The Crane wife)were bold attempts at broadening the scope and sound of the band's music. Somewhere along the way the band lost a bit of the magic and charm that made Smiths fans think that there might actually be worthwhile music in the twenty first century.

The new album, The King is Dead, strips away the excess (prog-rock, concept rock and corporate rock) and just strums one away with acoustic guitars, pretty melodies and good writing. This album is probably closest to my favorite, Castaways and Cutouts. There are however major differences: fiddles, steel guitars and harmonicas swell among an americana sound. Folk great Gillian Welch sings back up with her distinctive voice raising the quality of the music to soaring levels. REM guitarist, Peter Buck adds his jangling flair to several of the tunes (Calamity Song mimics the Reckoning era with 12 string indie perfection.)

Colin still pushes his writing to that fine line between brilliance and pretentiousness. Words like great come out Geereaat when his sings them. He uses words that his university educated audiences have never heard of (like trillium, excuse me, i mean tereeleeumm.) Meloy has the ability to sweep us away from the confines of the real world. Those Smiths fans I mentioned earlier might feel like checking a calender when listening to The Decemberists. Their music and lyrics make one think of the nineteenth century with images of seasons, harvests and storybook characters firing the imagination. The king may be dead, but here, the song reigns supreme.

Colin and his band-mates do what they do best: create stories. The track, Rise To Me contains one of the loveliest melodies you'll ever hear. January Hymn is a stunning ode to winter. This is Why We Fight makes one think he's ready to fight for a just cause. Avery's song softly ends the album by putting the listener's feet back on the ground. But fear not, the magic still surrounds and abounds...
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio CDVerified Purchase
This is one of the best albums I've had the pleasure of listening to in the last 5 years. Great songwriting and musicianship, there isn't one boring song on this album!
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