Review: The Decemberists – The King is Dead (2011)

Note: Kaitie debuts today, who’s joining us from over in Washington D.C.. Uncanny with a pen and anything journalism, let’s welcome her to Mezzic!

There’s something about The Decemberists’ music that has always tugged at my heartstrings. Whether from lyrical content or simple musical beauty, the Portland-based band has managed to slip at least one tear jerker track on to almost all of their albums.  Their previous rock opera-style concept album, The Hazards of Love, is essentially a huge buildup to the two main characters professing their love while they meet a watery death.

But it’s a musically gorgeous watery death, so I still listen.

Unlike their last elaborate effort, The Decemberists chose to scale back the pageantry with their newest release, The King is Dead.

While their earlier work had more of a Brit-pop feel, that eventually moved into theatrical orchestrations, this new album gets back to the band’s American roots. It has a folk vibe with just the appropriate hint of country flair coming from some fiddle, harmonica and pedal steel work that wasn’t heard in the band’s most recent work. It’s a big change-up, but the transition is seamless.

As always, lead singer and songwriter Colin Meloy brings his unique style of literary songwriting to the album. I, for one, never cease to be amazed at the impressive vocabulary he manages to fit into his songs. Panoply? Trillium? Gaberdine? Sure, they’re big words, but as my fellow word nerds know they serve a very important purpose – they allow Meloy to convey a very specific image. Not many musicians out there right now can paint as complete a picture as he does through words.


So what’s the heart-wrencher on this album, you ask? There’s not just one. “January Hymn” is not only perfect for this time of year, but is a poignant expression of wanting a loved one to return. It also contains one of my favorite lyrical turns of phrase on the album – “How I lived a childhood in snow / And all my teens in tow / Dressed in strata of clothes.

The closing track, “Dear Avery,” is another “please come home” type of song, but it features lovely vocals and an excellent pedal steel solo, putting a great cap on the end of the album.

There are, of course, some excellent upbeat tunes on the album as well. Opening track “Don’t Carry it All” is bound to become a Decemberists classic down the line. And the apocalyptic “Calamity Song” is a catchy take on what might happen if the world ended and “California succumbed to the fault line.”

All in all, The King is Dead is a nice change of pace from The Decemberists and is hopefully a sign of even more great music to come from them.

The Decemberists

Official | iTunes

Rating: 8.7/10
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