The Decemberists’ The King is Dead

“Beneath this bold and brilliant sun!,” sings Colin Meloy in the opening track of The Decemberist’s latest album, The King is Dead. It’s a surprisingly upbeat and bright feel for what typically comes from the group. Their last couple of releases, such as The Crane Wife, had dead Civil War soldiers, heartbroken lovers and mass murderers throughout the tracks, while The Hazards of Love was a gloriously dark affair throughout, with a sound to match. The King Is Dead, however, has a far more upbeat and sunny disposition.

The King is Dead is a fantastic collection of tracks from the group, one that breaks out of some of the more intense elements of their recent work, which saw complicated stories and themes throughout, and gives them a chance to scatter a little and enjoy themselves. This is a fun album, from the opening track Don’t Carry It All to Rox In The Box to the fantastic Down By The Water and This Is Why We Fight. Tracks such as June Hymn and Dear Avery both have their own nostalgic, ’70s feel to them that reminds me the most of Gordon Lightfoot and other folk-singers from the same point in time.

The end result is a different album than I’m largely used to from the group, reminding me the most of their collection of singles, Always The Bridesmaid from a couple years ago, to Picaresque from 2005. But, where the group had a really eclectic sound from their earliest albums, they’ve taken the tone and feel of their later efforts and combined this with what’s truely made the group a great one: their focus on the songs, lyrics and style. Their strange sound that they started with was one that I’ve never been a huge fan of, and it was really only with ‘The Crane Wife‘ that I was able to get into their music and enjoy the stronger parts of what they’ve released, and most of everything since then.

Albums such as The Crane Wife and The Hazards of Love both blew me away with their overarching storytelling (The Hazards of Love moreso), but The King is Dead comes as a welcome change in style, at least for now. The newer sound is excellent, and the group feels like it is exploring some of their deeper roots and are working on material that they weren’t able to do for a while. It’s refreshing, as is the sound and tone of the entire album, and it’s an album that I’ll be listening to for months as spring comes to Vermont. I can’t think of a better album to drive to when the temperatures begin to rise and summer returns.

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2 thoughts on “The Decemberists’ The King is Dead

  1. Nice review, looking forward to the release tomorrow!

    If you like the sound of The King is Dead, you might also like some of their oldest recordings, like ‘Her Majesty’ and even Colin Meloy’s previous project, Tarkio. As much as I enjoy the dark Victorian maritime sound (to grossly generalize), I like the folk rock style they’ve got even better.

    • Her Majesty was an album that I’ve never really been a big fan of – Meloy’s voice has come a long way since then, and I think that’s the main reason I wasn’t a big fan of them until The Crane Wife, for better or worse. Castaways and Cutouts, which came out just before, is one that I like a bit better. That being said, I’ve really grown to like their strange style – it’s deeply rich and interesting, with a real nostalgic feel at times. This new, more mainstream direction is one that combines a couple of their better qualities: better sound, and a leg up on most pop music out there – there’s some real and true skills behind what they do.

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